Germany is one of the world’s best and safest holiday destinations

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Schwerin Castle.
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Island Museum of Berlin.
Updated 18 October 2017
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Germany is one of the world’s best and safest holiday destinations

RIYADH: Germany, which ranks as one of the world’s best tourism destinations, is also regarded as one of the safest countries for business, medical tourism and leisure.
Since reunification, Germany gained a higher profile as a place to visit, thanks partly to the remarkable resurgence of Berlin, one of the most fascinating and exciting cities in Europe. But the appeal of the reunified Germany is not limited to the German capital only. There are hundreds of places to see in Germany besides hundreds of avenues to enjoy.
On the one hand, Germany is famous for lifestyle, art and culture; while on the other, it is equally important for business and leisure. Germany’s contribution to the world of art and classical music is undeniable, and provides a powerful pretext for a visit, whether to experience the glories of the Berlin Philharmonic or of Wagner’s Ring at Bayreuth, or to follow in the footsteps of great composers: Bach in Leipzig, Beethoven in Bonn.
“Germany’s reputation as the cradle of modernism is also well deserved. German modernism was preceded by the older traditions of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo, each of which left a rich legacy of artistic and architectural treasures,” said a report on tourism released by the German government. Germany’s prowess in fine art is less well known, yet from the pioneering realism of Albrecht Durer to the ethereal Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich, it’s a powerful tradition that is well worth discovering.
Most German cities of any size have excellent galleries, with Berlin and Cologne hubs of the European contemporary art scene. The pleasures of a visit to Germany are not only intellectual. Germany’s food culture is traditionally characterized by wholesome but hearty dishes, a vast array of sausages and excellent but calorific cakes. Yet the impact of immigration, travel and increasing culinary ambition has been powerful, and most towns nowadays offer a wide selection of international options, usually including Balkan, Greek, Italian and Turkish.
“Germany offers all what is praiseworthy and what one wants to see as well as experience,” said German Ambassador Dieter Haller, while referring to the growing popularity of German cities in terms of tourism. In fact, Germany is the seventh most visited country today with a growing number of wealthy tourists from Arab countries streaming into Germany. In fact, one unsung pleasure of a visit to Germany is the opportunity to meet its people.
In terms of medical tourism, Germany is far ahead. Many consider the German health care system as one of the best in Europe and around the world. German hospitals have been a primary health travel destination in Europe for hundreds of years and continue to lead the industry today. Patients from Eastern European countries such as Russia, Romania and Bulgaria, besides many Arab nations, who have the resources to pay for high quality medical services, usually seek medical care abroad and Germany is a primary choice.
Medical travelers from Great Britain and the United States are also attracted to Germany’s hospitals mainly because of the high level of medical care and technical advances offered by the German healthcare system. Coming to Germany as a medical tourist also enables the Western medical travelers to reduce the waiting times which are common in many other countries. Patients from the Gulf and Arab nations come to Germany to avail themselves of the expertise and reputation of the German doctors.
Germany is ideal as a destination for health and relaxation — whether travelling with the whole family, unwinding after a business trip or engaging in active pursuits. With around 200,000 km of walking trails and 70,000 km of cycle paths you can explore the country at its most unspoilt, getting close to nature while being kind to the environment. Along the way one will discover amazing and diverse natural landscapes. More than one third of the country’s land area is under some form of protection.
With a total of 16 national parks, 15 UNESCO biosphere reserves and over 100 nature parks, there are more than 130 preserved national landscapes just waiting to be explored. Indeed, Germany offers a wide range of options for sustainable travel. Its leafy towns and cities boast excellent public transport networks and a good cycling infrastructure. Hotels and restaurants support the use of regional produce within a very lively culinary scene that will delight anyone who enjoys good food.
Many attractions and amenities also cater for disabled guests through the ‘Tourism for all” project. The largest city in Germany’s federal state of Saxony, Leipzig is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene shaped by famous music composers like Bach, Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn. Tourists today can enjoy performances of Bach’s music at the St. Thomas Church where Bach once served as choir leader and is now buried. Located in the Baltic Sea, Rugen Island is another attraction and is the largest island in Germany, connected to the mainland by the Rugen Bridge and Rugen Causeway.
Charming villas, romantic seaside resorts and beautiful beaches all draw tourists to Rugen Island, but the star attraction is the Jasmund National Park, famous for its unique chalk cliffs rising 528 feet (161 meters) over the sea. Another notable feature of Rugen Island is Cape Arkona, East Germany’s northernmost tip, where tourists can visit an old lighthouse, remnants of a Slavic castle and a picturesque fishing village.
Another major attraction is Romantic Rhine stretching between the cities of Bingen and Bonn, the Middle Rhine flows through a dramatic geological formation called the Rhine Gorge. This region features a spectacular landscape dotted with some 40 medieval castles, picturesque villages and terraced vineyards. The region’s most famous natural attraction is the Lorelei, the deepest and most narrow section of the Rhine Gorge, which features a large, treacherous rock that caused several boating accidents prior to the 19th century. The best way to experience the Romantic Rhine is by a riverboat cruise.
Another one of the most beautiful cities in Europe is Munich in Germany. Best known as the origin of the world famous Oktoberfest, Munich is one of the best places to visit in Germany with a great culture scene. Munich is home to several sophisticated opera houses and theaters like the National Theatre. The city center is an attractive blend of classic and modern architecture, teeming in historic churches, medieval walls and royal palaces as well as bustling shopping centers and nightlife venues. Munich’s Oktoberfest began in 1810 with a royal wedding celebration. Today, this famous beer festival draws millions of visitors every year to take part in the revelry that involves several gigantic beer tents, delicious Bavarian food and millions of liters of beer.
Then comes the capital city, which is the most important city not only in Germany but in the whole of Europe from tourism and business points of view. A federal state and the capital city of Germany, Berlin is widely associated with its World War II history and former division of East and West Germany by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. Since the fall of the historic wall in 1989, Berlin today is now a vast, unified city diverse in ethnic groups and abundant in sightseeing attractions, culture and nightlife. Many tourists are drawn to Berlin’s famous historic structures, which include the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. Although most of the Berlin Wall was demolished, there are some portions still standing near Checkpoint Charlie and Reichstag.

Then, no one can deny the attraction of Cologne, situated on the Rhine River in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne is one of the most popular places to visit in Germany. The city offers a vibrant array of attractions, buzzing nightlife and a stellar arts and culture scene. Cologne also packs impressive landmarks such as the city’s informal symbol, the Cologne Cathedral, a stunning Gothic church. Moreover, the Twelve Romanesque Churches are magnificent examples of medieval architecture.
Another city in Germany which attracts sizeable number of tourists is Dresden. Before it was severely damaged from World War II bombings, Dresden was known as the Jewel Box because of its lavish collection of stunning art and architecture. After many years, the city has restored much of its former glory. The capital of the federal state of Saxony, Dresden offers a number of historic sites like the stunning Frauenkirche cathedral. The city also boasts many cultural institutions of which the Semper Opera is most widely esteemed.
As one of the largest Baltic seaports in Germany, Lubeck is a tourist place to see, it is located in the country’s northern-most state, Schleswig-Holstein. Founded in 1143, Lubeck served for several centuries as the capital seat of the Hanseatic League. Although it was the first German city to be bombed and damaged during World War II, Lubeck still retains much of its medieval architecture, making it a popular tourist destination. A walk through the narrow streets of the Altstadt offers views of historic sites like the stunning cathedral, the 12th century Town Hall and the old city gates of which the Holstentor is the most famous.
Any tourist visiting Germany should also not miss Heidelberg. With historic treasures like the medieval Old Bridge, the Heidelberg Castle, the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Knight St. George House, it is no wonder that Heidelberg is a popular tourist attraction. The city center’s main street, Haupstrasse, is packed with pubs, restaurants, museums, art galleries, shops and markets. Home to Germany’s oldest university, Heidelberg’s long academic history can be retraced along the Philosopher’s Walk, a scenic footpath often walked by many earlier philosophers and professors.
On the other hand, the most photographed building in Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle, is also one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Nestled among the breathtaking beauty of the Bavarian Alps near the town of Fussen, this fairy-tale castle served as the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Constructed in the late 1800s, Neuschwanstein Castle was never built for defense purposes as most castles. Instead, this castle was created as a fanciful retreat King Ludwig II of Bavaria who had a reputation for abiding in daydreams instead of reality.


Fantastic four: Saudi women fly the flag for cycling

Updated 19 July 2018
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Fantastic four: Saudi women fly the flag for cycling

  • Saudi Arabia’s first women-only 10-kilometer cycling race was held in April 2018 at the King Abdullah City for Sports in Jeddah
  • More than 70 Saudi cyclists took part in the tour, including the four HerRide members

JEDDAH: Before Saudi Arabia’s women drivers there were Saudi women cyclists. Thousands of women around the Kingdom have taken to two wheels in the past few years, and groups of female cyclists are a common sight on city streets.

Now four young women have taken cycling to a new level by becoming the first Saudi female cycling team to join the Global Biking Initiative (GBI) European tour, an annual seven-day ride that highlights the sport and raises money for a range of charitable causes.

Sisters Fatimah and Yasa Al-Bloushi, Dina Al-Nasser and Anoud Aljuraid — founder members of the HerRide cycling group — joined hundreds of cyclists from all over the world earlier this month when the tour kicked off from Gothenburg in Sweden before heading through Denmark and on to the port of Hamburg in northern Germany.

More than 70 Saudi cyclists took part in the tour, including the four HerRide members. 

The dynamic HerRide team shares a passion for adventure, and a love of outdoor activities and sports. Fatimah Al-Bloushi, the team captain, told Arab News that when she started the group in July, 2017, “we were a group of amateur cycling enthusiasts and our idea was to train to be the first Saudi female team to participate in GBI Europe 2018.” 

This year was Fatimah’s second time in the GBI tour. Last year she was the first and only Saudi woman to take part in the event. 

“I want to empower Saudi women and encourage cycling,” she said.

Fatimah also enjoys skydiving, surfing, abseiling and climbing, and is also the first woman member of the Saudi Cycling Federation. In her hometown of Alkhobar, she organizes women’s gatherings twice a week to cycle together along the beachfront. She also volunteers to teach cycling for beginners. 

Like all sports events and tours, training plays a crucial role in preparing for the GBI tour. Team member Anoud Aljuraid, an accomplished hiker and technical climber, met Fatimah two years ago while climbing the Ol Doinyo Lengai, or “Mountain of God,” volcano in Tanzania.

“For me the challenge was sitting on the bike for up to eight hours while riding up to 100 kilometers a day,” Aljuraid said. “It was also hard to maintain a certain speed to reach the next destination or nutrition point on time, but my training helped me get over those challenges.”

Although the number of women cyclists on the streets of Saudi Arabia is growing, challenges remain for those joining the sport.

Team member Dina Al-Nasser lives in Riyadh and enjoys long-distance cycling as well as hiking and boxing. Her biggest challenge during the GBI tour was cycling alongside cars.

“I mostly trained at home, but it’s hard for me to train in areas where men usually train, such as Wadi Hanifa and Ammariyah,” she said. “However, I was able to get over my fear and by the third day on the tour I was riding alongside trucks and didn’t even notice.”

Al-Nasser said that cycling is challenging not only for women in Saudi Arabia but for professional cyclists in general.

“We hope that the streets will be more bike friendly, and that people can adopt the same infrastructure for cyclists that we have seen on the tour — such as special paved paths and traffic lights — here in the Kingdom,” she said. 

“Hopefully, cycling will become a lifestyle in Saudi Arabia and we will see people cycling to work one day.” 

The Saudi HerRide women’s team celebrate a challenging stage finish on the GBI European tour. (Supplied photo)

Despite the challenges, the HerRide team say they are hoping to join the next GBI tour. “It was a great experience to cross three countries by bicycle,” Yasa Al-Bloushi said. “Of course, we got some bruises and had falls here and there, but I look at that as a sign of accomplishment.”

The team members gained valuable skills from watching other riders during the tour. “I learned how to be a part of a team and to look out for each other. It was important to listen to my team-mates and focus on their needs,” said Dina Al-Nasser.

 Fatima Al-Bloushi said that the support of her team made her second tour more special than the first. “We knew each other’s weaknesses from day one and we always had each other’s back. If our energy levels were low, someone would provide nutrition. When our spirits were down, we had music to give us a boost, and when someone was nervous, we reminded each other to have fun,” she said.

“I experienced GBI twice. The first time I went alone and came back with a family of friends. The second time I went with friends and came back with family.”

The woman said the spirit of cooperation among cyclists on the tour was empowering. “What made this experience even more amazing, besides the beautiful scenery, was the quality of people we met,” said Fatima. “If we were struggling, they would pass by with a smile, give you a pat on the back and tell you that you were strong enough to push through — it really did make us feel stronger.”

 In future, the group plans to hire a professional trainer and offer cycling workshops for Saudi women. They also hope long-distance cycling events, such as the GBI, will one day be held in Saudi Arabia. 

“Under Vision 2030, I’m sure there will be a lot of local events for cyclists in the Kingdom, including women,” said Al-Nasser.

The four cyclists have some words of encouragement for Saudi women hoping to fulfil their dreams. “You will always find people who will give you negative comments, but as long as you are doing what you love and are not hurting anyone, just keep going,” said Al-Nasser. 

Fatimah said: “Two years ago I was looking to join a cycling team, but as a woman in Saudi Arabia I was unable to — now things have changed. My advice to all women out there is never say ‘no,’ always say ‘yes’ to opportunities.”