On Purim, Sabbath, and Hanukah: The Jewish Culture in New York

israel flag

This Saturday was a big event in the lives of Jewish people: Purim was celebrated on February 23rd, a Jewish holiday revolving around the entrance of Jewish people into the old Persian Empire. Matter of fact, I was even invited to a modern version of the classic Purim out in Bushwick. The joint supposedly hosted 800 blissful party-seekers and lasted until 5:30 in the morning. A lot of dressing up was involved, in addition to drinking and dancing. Purim is only of those few Jewish traditions which have become an important part of New York life.

Most people who come to New York for only a few weeks or months underestimate the Jewish presence in the Big Apple. Sure, you always hear about Hasidic neighborhoods out in Williamsburg (which by now almost do not exist, thanks to the annoying Hipsters extending their realms all the way out into Bushwick and rich students moving into the lofty apartments off Bedford). Even guidebooks mention the Orthodox Jews living in certain parts of Brooklyn (nowhere else in New York; Brooklyn is their kingdom) but also depict them more as an oddity than anything else. Now I myself might be prejudiced in the fact that they are “rare” and nowhere else to see. Perhaps working for a classic Jewish company in Midtown has geared my selective attention towards the kippot, ringlets, and bearded men reading the Torah on the train early in the morning.

Now, guidebooks cannot always be trusted, and you will therefore find proof of Jewish culture throughout the entire City. A fact is that 1.5 million Jews or people with Jewish origin live in New York. Supposedly they make out 12 percent of the metropolitan area’s population – the highest Jewish population outside of Tel-Aviv in Israel.

A friend of mine once said: The Jews rule New York!” – but I was not entirely convinced of his words. True, some stem from rich families and live all the way out in apartments in the heart of Brooklyn with lesser costs attached to them than, say, a house in the Upper East Side of New York demands.

Then my first full-time job was with a Jewish company and, smack, all of a sudden Jews certainly ruled my life. I was working 40-hour-weeks for a non-for-profit organization which was called into existence to distribute Germany’s reparation costs towards Holocaust survivors and (as the years passed) their heirs. This might sound ironic, since you know by now that I am German and grew up in the Southwest of Deutschland. It did appear a bit awkward in the beginning and I remember a few looks here and there from fellow co-workers who were trying to check out my family’s history (and the feelings of insult I dealt with in the very beginning). Least to say that many fellow Germans, including me, had no idea that a percentage of their tax money still goes to this organization (after almost 70 years since the end of WWII).

Aside from the pure essence of its work, this non-for-profit adhered to the standards of the Jewish religion. To observe Sabbath, from late fall to early spring, Fridays always ended earlier than the usual 9 – 5 hours we were used to. Since traditionally you had to be home before candlelit hours on Sabbath, the organization had to give their employees 2 hours of time to travel before the darkness started. Sometimes we were off as early as 2 PM during mid-December days. Only a half day of work on Fridays – an arrangement most workers had lived by for years already.

Of course non-for-profits are not the only organizations who observe Sabbath. Take for example my two favorite camera stores called B & H and Adorama. Both are owned by Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, and they are also off every Friday at 1 PM already (even during the summer). Now you also know the reason as to why they are not open every Saturday: It is due to observing Sabbath, which lasts from Friday night until Saturday night.

So what exactly is Sabbath and how is it to be observed? Theories vary on this as does the degree of observance. The most striking feature of all is that traditionally it is prohibited to use any forms of electricity. My Orthodox Jewish coworkers told me stories of pre-set oven timers, alarm clocks and pre-charged cell phones. “So you don’t have a social life because you can’t reply to your friend’s messages on your cell phone?” I once asked my coworker Sally. “Of course you can, you just have to be around your cell phone when the message drops in to see when and where they want to meet!” she confirmed after pulling out her smart phone (and showing the handy feature of home screen messages). And in case the Jewish family forgets to turn off their lights or set the timers? They ask random strangers on the street, such as my Asian friend James who was once walking down Bedford Avenue. An Orthodox Jewish boy ran after him and gave him $10 to enter their house and turn off the oven. Not bad for 5 minutes of work.

Not all Jewish people adhere this strongly to their religion’s rules. But Friday night is always a big event. I was once invited to my friend’s Sabbath party out in Bushwick. Together with her Catholic roommate and her roommate’s sister we silently sat throughout the ceremony, which involved pouring red wine into glasses and offering bread to all attendants. The whole ordeal starkly reminding me of the Christian offering, which has copied this tradition from Judaism. My friend had also cooked a variety of meals and guests brought several bottles of wine so that it ended up being a modern-day party after the Sabbath ritual had ended.

And then the many days off work, because the company adhered to Jewish holidays. It hurt my paycheck since I was being paid hourly but it was still nice to have more than the average of free time (especially since America is the land of only 10 day vacations and 5 federal holidays). They gave us off for almost one entire week spread out throughout 2 weeks when Passover came along. Corporate events were always an occasion to taste some yummy (kosher) food brought to the office. Such as the annual Hannukah party which combined the almost 200 people all into one conference room. Or the hummus dips presented during Passover time.

Time at the non-for-profit has taught me many valuable things about a culture you don’t find to this extent in Germany or other (catholic) European countries devoid of Jewish traditions. Of course some oddities were also involved. Such as the Orthodox Jew who insisted on telling my Polish (Catholic) coworker on where to find good wigs at a reasonable price. All because she and her fiancé lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. She tried not to get offended that he thought her waist-long hair was fake… Or the fact that it is a tradition to offer a future fiancé a fancy and expensive bracelet instead of the 5-karat diamond ring most Americans expect for their engagement.

After one year of constantly dealing with Jewish coworkers I found that being Jewish is a form of culture moreover than a form of religion. It also made me forget about the quazillion other cultures this city has to offer, so my next job was a welcome change to a one-sided but nonetheless interesting deal in New York.

A Different Approach to Writing: Slowblogging and Snowballblogging

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What is better: Daily blurbs resembling tantrums or a few well-written posts a month? Yes, a MONTH! Have you ever heard about this? Me neither. But recently I have come across a few blogs who highlight the importance of slow blogging. Slowblogging has evolved from the complete opposite of what most people understand under blogging nowadays. No diary entries, no excessive writing, no daily or even weekly updates.

No, slow blogging emphasizes how quality can exceed quantity when it comes to writing and maintaining readership. It involves rethinking your thoughts twice before submitting them through your online page. It involves letting your works sit for a while until the final proofreading and polishing. It also involves being absent from your blog for some time longer in order to come up with those high-quality posts.

Nowadays, I follow both slow bloggers and snowball bloggers. The latter name I came up with because the word rhymes with “slow” and because the snowball principle relies on throwing one ball after another. Just like some writers, who throw their thoughts out there and expect a return in some form, be it comments, likes, or new followers. I do have quite a few blogger friends who use the WordPress platform as their personal diary and update their fellow readers on their progress, life, and ramblings almost every day (if not even more than once a day). No judgment intended but sometimes I think that a well-composed post can exceed the quality of 3 hastily spat-out write-ups, even if it takes 5 times as long to come up with.

It is also being said that blogs who use the slow blogging principle exceed the lifespan of other blogs and are not like “dead corpses” swirling around the world wide web after being abandoned because of frustration and time constraints. This slower pace of blogging certainly has its advantages, as writers can blog in longer intervals and feel free to go about their daily activities without feeling the angst of having to come up with a new post for the evening.

As you all have surely noticed, my blog has come to a short standstill in the past few weeks with only sporadic blog posts and a few updates here and there. The reason for this is quite simple: Feelings of an overwhelmed state of life in addition to excessive planning of too many projects at hand have basically kept me shorthanded in not only writing but many other hobbies I had been enjoying up until recently. It is almost the end of February, we are a good two months into the new and still promising year but it somehow still feels like I am treading air. Procrastination, fear of non-progression, and an overwhelming desire to start new is no good mix to contribute to a blog that is meticulously giving the appearance it only wants to update on New York things. And this at a time where I’ve had almost zero time to enjoy New York.

To therefore justify my complete lack of time and energy in blogging, I wanted to put some focus on slow blogging, which is by far one of the most interesting concepts I have come across throughout this week. Some blogs on this topic have also explained the mysterious rise of stats I’ve witnessed over the past months while my quantity of blog posts certainly have not exceeded the usual number. I guess after almost 245 posts, people continue to randomly find me, and if it’s just to know how to pronounce “Neuenheim” or to determine if “foot fetish really does exist on craigslist”… (For my post on analyzing google search terms, please go here. You’ll enjoy it, I promise!). But it might also be that whenever I post, I post a lot of words, and I include my personal opinion and lots of other information. I’d like to say I post on topics that have been well-researched, instead, but that’s not entirely true, so I bend myself towards the illusion that slow blogging could be a new approach for me and perhaps other readers.

Enough of these ramblings. I guess what I am really just trying to do is justify my lack of blogging lately by finding the hidden niche: Quality exceeds quantity and slow-blogging is the new thing. Just like bright colors will be back in fashion this summer, slow blogging is up and in the rising (as it was 7 years ago) and I am on my best way to follow this trend. Until then I will finish up other projects and devote my time to complete my painful 250th blog post….

[To read another great post on slow blogging, visit Anne R. Allen’s Blog and her entry The Slow Blog Manifesto…and 8 Reasons Why Slow Blogging Will Help Your Career, Your Love Life, and Protect You From Angry Elephants]

Why Generation Y Still Has the Best Potential of All

(from cow-flipper.hubpages.com)
(from cow-flipper.hubpages.com)

My parents grew up with the idea of stability: Find a job, nurture a family, and be happy. They were raised by the Post-War Cohort: A group which came of age in great instability, economic crises, and, well, war times, so to speak. To counteract the fears and extreme living situations they went through, their offspring were to experience a better life, in the form of stability, wealth, and rigidity. Financial splurges such as spending one’s hard-earned money on cars, houses, and other things were once again a focal point and had taken on a whole ‘nother dimension.
As the post-war generation was unable to offer much to their families except for the notion to make something durable out of their lives, people born in the late 40ies to the early 60ies pretty much lived up to their parents’ expectations. Now more than one family member could have a car, and buying electronic gadgets was about as feasible as weekly grocery shopping used to be. A company kept their employees for years and years, offering great benefits, retirement plans, and even a severance.

While the degree of rigidity found in the Baby Boomers’ lives is, of course, also culturally defined, I’ve seen similar characteristics in both countries: Germany and the US. With the same priorities evolving among this generation: Work, home, family. Yes, even in a city as chaotic as New York. Nothing too much out of the ordinary; spending most of one’s life at work and aiming towards a good retirement fund.

Somewhere after this, past the almost unnoticed hippie Generation X, a new group had formed: The so-called Generation Y, also known as Millennials. While theories vary, most likely the most representable would be to define this group as born from the early 80ies to mid-90ies. The children of the Baby Boomers, so to speak. And what makes this generation so different from the group they were raised by? Anything but rigidity or stability.
As if opposites were always to skip around each other and make out one generation after another, Generation Y has seen it all: The advent of the mini playback shows and the destruction of a celeb’s life through paparazzi. Divorces after 30 years of “happy” marriages and divorces after 5 years of “unhappy” marriages. The workforce gearing up to computer-adept, internet-savvy, and multi-tasking individuals willing to work several different gigs at once while living off a salary screaming for starvation. How Ivy League schools don’t necessarily land the dream job and how tuition fees can basically destroy a young career before it has even started.

The traits of Generation Y are not necessarily flattering. In her blog, Penelope Trunk explains why they will be bypassed by the next generation because they are non-confrontational individuals, who do not like to stand out, want to be led, and do what their passion is. Of course she doesn’t summarize it as bluntly as this, so make sure you visit her blog post before you read on with this.

But aside from these rather weak traits, what makes out the magic of Generation Y is the following: They have seen that nothing is impossible.

Such as dropping out of college and starting a business that will earn you billions (Zuckerberg’s Facebook was just one of many). Some 20-somethings are not even considering the possibility of advanced education but starting their own businesses directly. Without having the 10 or 20-year-corporate experience and that MBA everyone was urging them to obtain. No wonder when, at the same time, the news are full of stories on how college grads are struggling to find work they are “overqualified” for.

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Generation Y also senses that, although they still actively participate in it, bullsh*tting is no skill highly recognizable because, alas, they’ve grown up with marketing their so-called “skill” set of hobbies, music, and sports activities as something “so special” it should have made them pop out of the crowd of the other 1000 skateboarders, ballerinas, and singers who also wanted to make it at some point in their lives. But it didn’t. And therefore people who only have the flaking going for them, do not count. Unless they can show what they are really made off.

On top of this, Generation Y is also the generation with the best opportunity to travel the world. Be it going global through a company or just randomly deciding to take a year off for travel plans. No matter if it is right out of high school, right out of college, or even right after entering the corporate world – I’ve never met so many travelers than with this generation. There is a good reason for this: Gen-Y does not want to end up as zombies with an unfulfilled life. It wants to see how other nations live and it does not want to see this on a TV podcast only. And perhaps here is where its weak trait of passion comes in. But global traveling has also become easier, cheaper, and simply more feasible the more people do it and share their adventures. It must have been their role models of Gen X inspiring them when they themselves were backpacking 20-somethings who explored Thailand and Indonesia back in the 90ies.

Right on track with being internet-savvy, Gen-Y constitutes the first of all groups whose lives are displayed online. Starting with their first myspace account, a facebook page, Linkedin, tweets, and blogging: They are the pros in over-communication and over-sharing – straining many people’s nerves when it comes to this medium. Plus the benefits of blogging and sharing yelp opinions on oh-so-crappy restaurants. What better ways to warn other Gen-Yers, right?

Returning back to the corporate world, Gen-Yers are possible the first singled-out generation to actively criticize and take criticism. To their bosses and from their bosses. It’s not a form of disrespect but rather a healthy outlook on how to earn an employee’s respect rightfully. Now Gen-Y wants to be flexible, especially when it comes to family time and having some days off, because after all, work by itself is not too fulfilling when there are so many other opportunities out there. Perhaps a better job execution invented for them is freelancing or tele-commuting – spending half of the time at home and the other half at work. Work places will change and they’ve already done so quite a bit due to technological advances. The generations to follow will surely want to take advantage from what the current one is trying to implement.

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With all of this flexibility going on, the old-school question of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?” makes absolutely no sense to this generation. 5 years ago the world was utterly different than from today, how would anyone know where they’d stand in 5 productive years from now? Is it for sure whether or not you will meet Mr or Mrs Right and have a family by then? Or that you will receive a job offer in China or spend most of your life traveling? Who can predict what new technologies and job niches would have opened up by then? No one knows. The interviewer certainly does not. Neither does Gen-Y. The past has opened up many doors for the future to embrace. No time has ever been as unpredictable as this time.

And back to Penelope Trunks’ theory: Well, I am not so sure about her opinion. I rather think that Generation X has been kept a bit too silent. You know, that group who was raised by the only true hippies. Whose parents were all about freedom, peace, and flower power (or pot-smoking at Woodstock, for what it’s worth). I have seen much significant change from the irresponsible generation, the middle group making out the bridge between Baby Boomers and newly-defined Generation Y. But for some reason they have a hard time being accredited. All the hard times they went through, fighting for being accepted as individuals, traveling to Timbuktu, forming theories on world’s creation. And even in building up their businesses at a fairly young age. But Generation Y just swooped in and got all the credit for nothing. Boy, Gen X must be pissed…

For more fun readings, I’ve come across this great blog about all things Generation Y. I highly recommend checking the author and her page out – she has a very positive attitude towards life, self-fulfillment, and juggling the cards dealt to her. She is a full-time student and worker, just trying to deal with the hassles of an over-achieving life. Gen Y Girl can be found here.

Traveling the World: A Dream in the Making

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When I was 10 years old, my grandmother gave me a book filled with the mysteries of every single country in the world. This book described details such as each country’s currency, national language, and most outstanding sights. Back then I vowed to learn every country with its capital and to know it by heart by the time I hit puberty. Then, when I was in my beginning 20ies, I bought myself a world traveler’s map showing the entire extent of Earth with every continent and land on it. One day, I told myself, one day I’d see every single continent and I’d been to most of those countries on the map.

For those of you who know me, this post does not come out of the blue. I’ve been having this dream for a long time and ever since I came to New York it has manifested itself in many forms.

It’s a dream inspired and nourished by many fellow travelers. Starting with the Swiss guy I met 2 1/2 years ago in the Meatpacking District. He was on his second world travel and had decided to pack his bags for 6 months to see Australia, Hawaii, and the USA (Hey, that’s 2 and 1/2 continents, not bad, eh?). Then the two Dutch girls who finished up their studies in their mid-20ies and forgot about their normal life back home for 18 full months. Yes, 1 1/2 years! They literally traveled the entire world, took with every single continent and stayed in Spain for four additional months.

Meeting and hearing about these people and their fates has nourished, even fattened a dream of my own. Thanks to the Swiss guy, I have overcome my disgust of hostels and seen it as a new means to explore more of North America when you are on a tight budget (see my DC and Montreal posts on this). It has also forced me to open up to complete strangers and get to know their life stories from an angle you are not likely to see anywhere else (so different than from the work place).

I have since then drawn several assumptions: First, traveling the world is not undoable, as many fearful people might want to make us believe. Second, it might very well be cheaper than I thought it would have. Third, it is not as unusual as initially assumed, especially among my generation and with the means we have to advance globally in today’s (Western) society.

Over the course of the past few months I have run across a number of blogs from people who have done it: They have seen the entire world in a year. Sometimes they’ve seen it even longer than that, but sometimes also less.

This will be me
This will be me some day – minus the hat (but I’m claiming the teddy bear!)

By now I’ve already formed an idea of what areas I want to visit and what I’d rather reserve for another time. Europe, for example, is not really what I am aiming towards. Since I grew up there, I’ve already accomplished an extensive amount of traveling. Perhaps the most important reason is also that it’s not necessarily the cheapest option. Which is why I am saving this small speck on Earth for another time. The same goes for Africa. I feel this is a lone continent that will take a travel of its own to explore culture, people, and all the amenities. One day, yes, one day I want to see the burnt soil of the deserts, I want to go on a safari, and I want to eat home-made couscous . But not this time. Another.

I therefore drew the conclusion that the most plausible way to go is flying to the remaining continents: South America, New Zealand, Australia, and Asia. In that order. Since it will be summer during our winter, I believe starting at the end of a year might be a good idea. I plan on devoting three months on each continent and reserving the remaining three months for a country I liked the most. I wouldn’t mind staying in Thailand or Indonesia for an entire month, to be honest. Some place that won’t bankrupt my cash account and still offer a great time on the beach, in nature, and for photography. Working and traveling in Australia and New Zealand is another idea that has come to mind after speaking to my German friend who has done it after college. Costs for visas and accommodations will determine where exactly I will go. I just know that a “working holiday” in Downunder will only cost me a bit more than $100 for a visa, so that sounds like a great compromise in terms of earning money and traveling the country all at the same time.

So why do I do it? I feel that I have to. That if I do not do this once- twice- thrice- in-a-lifetime travel, I will never feel fulfilled. I will never learn what the world has to offer me. Or be able to take with every single thing I can from this travel. In preparation, I am already improving my Portuguese, in case I ever make it to Brazil. And after this, I certainly want to brush up on my Spanish, as I’d feel a bit more comfortable speaking the actual mother tongue of South American countries. Hiking the Inca trail in Peru, trying out good wine in Argentina, and experiencing Carnival in Brazil – all of this sounds like good deal of fun to me. Exploring Asia, discovering hidden gems, eating a real Pad Thai – why not? Walking along the Chinese Wall, getting lost in the masses of Peking…. In the end, I do not expect much from the countries I plan to visit. This hopeless inexpectation might leave room for not being disappointed but rather awed by cultural differences and landscapes.

So how will I do it? Where will I stay? Recently, a friend of mine pointed me towards couchsurfing once again. But after reading Sherbet and Sparkles’ post on Making Friends Abroad, I might find Charlotte’s solution better. Then of course hostels and private rooms, depending on how cheap the accommodation is in each country. As for the most part, I will be traveling alone. It’s an extension of the continuous string of travels I am pretty much doing by myself already. I will certainly point my friends’ vacations towards different countries to join me for a week or two (or however long they want to spare). In the end, perhaps I won’t be alone for so long if I get enough of my friends to join me throughout this entire year (52 weeks can go by so fast).

So there it is, the rough draft of a dream in the making for a good 2 and a half years already. Perhaps it will take the same amount of time to accumulate funds, perhaps it won’t be so long. All I know is that I will hold on to this dream until it’s possible to pack my bags and say “Adieu” to whatever city I will then be living in.

If you are interested in pursuing the same, join me while I read through some helpful and cool blogs I’ve found on this topic. I will be posting interviews, backgrounds, and more helpful web sites on a page I will create on this site as time goes by.

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Blogs I already recommend:

* Traveling 9 to 5
It all started when I looked up RTW ticket and stumbled across this couple’s blog. They’ve traveled the world in one year on less than $300 for a ticket per person! Yes! Admirable!

* Arty Dubs
Quite the opposite is this blog in which a couple packs their belongings rather spontaneously and decides to travel the world by buying each ticket as they go. See their list of costs and more details to get an idea of pros and cons of each country.

* the Global Trip
describes Eric’s 16-month-long journey throughout the world. Or as he rightfully states: Until money runs out!

* Let’s Go
is a site on how to travel cheaply. It has links to blogs who have done it and it offers many insights into topics you might not think of at first.

* BootsNall
can be very helpful when it comes to deciding whether you should choose an RTW ticket or jump into the adventure head first.

* Active Planet Travels
is a blog of a guy who travels the world continuously and has many tips to offer. He opened up his own business (travel) and is now on a quest to see at least six of the seven continents out there. Good luck, Ronald!

* Adventurous Kate
Frankly, I still have no idea how Kate does it. But she travels, she works, she finances her dream come true. Find more on her blog and solo travels!

Nemo Flaking Its Way into New York

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Another storm has entered New York. This time in form of a blizzard. Heck, we haven’t had a blizzard in over 2 years! I had almost forgotten what real snow looks like until I left my apartment this night.
Crunchy white mass sticking to my shoes, flakes melting as soon as they touched my cheek. Snow in the Big Apple – it’s been so long.

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And while in the season of 2010/2011, we had two real snow days (snow days meaning days off work due to snow storms), today we had to work until the bitter end. Despite the weather forecast texting our all cell phones yesterday afternoon (Bloomberg must have paid an exorbitant amount to make sure every person in the metro area was well informed of the current conditions!), not every company allowed their employees to leave early, least to say, stay home on Friday (today).

It surely was not as bad at 5 PM but it got worse and worse until the constant flow of snow came drifting out of the sky. And still is. Most likely until tomorrow.

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These pictures were taken while walking around Park Slope just a few hours ago. Enjoy!

Published on Expat Arrivals: Another Interview on Life Abroad

A week ago Expat Arrivals asked me if I’d be interested in contributing with an interview to their homepage… Okay, okay, I stand corrected: I actually contacted them but they were nice enough to reply and then publish my extensive journal-like article with elaborate sentences in a timely manner on their web site. Kudos to this!

Click here get the full story and see my answers to some very interesting questions.

published on expat arrivals in january

The article describes my impressions after almost 3 years of New York time and gives newcomers a few tips on what to do when they get here or what to avoid.

Expat Arrivals, as the name indicates, is a web site for expatriates from all over the world. It features further interviews with other individuals to see how comfortable they feel in their new home and it asks them what advice they can offer to other expatriates. The page also has an array of additional topics, such as “expat living,” “overcoming culture shock,” and “working overseas.” What I like about it is that the stories are real – they were written by people who had to learn the hard way before they were able to pass on their experience to other expats through this medium.

It’s a great homepage to check out, in case you have not yet done so, and I will certainly keep them bookmarked for future references on other New York articles. I am also impressed by the guides they offer and which you can simply download in PDF format (who needs a guide book after all, when everything is online now, right?!).

My Trip to Miami in the Middle of January (II)

miami beach palmtrees

For our first night out we ended up in the Barton G. A top-notch restaurant, as we found out when we got there and were luckily dressed right. It also is quite a pricy experience, just to forewarn you. The Barton G offers all the amenities of a 4-star-place: The impeccable service, the white table clothes, the arrogant clientele.

Once we were seated, we noticed that appetizers might not be what we wanted. A couple next to us started off with “small fries” and ended up having a four-story-tower of fries which could have been their entire meal of the evening. This experience should have probably forewarned us for what was to come. I ordered the royal salmon and, alas, it did come served on a plate, but also served on a cushion beneath and a throne next to it. We figured that the restaurant’s purpose was to mock it’s paying and rich customers with these gimmicks. Quite an original idea, but sometimes rather difficult to eat (of fear of dumping the cushion upside down). Three Russian girls next to us were spoiled with steaming cocktails (as their web site states liquid nitrogen was stuck in the drink before served), so that it looked like a magical brew.

Royal Salmon served on a cushion
Royal Salmon served on a cushion

But the highlight of this entire comical situation came with the dessert: The Chocolate Fondue! And while it did state on the menu to “Please Ask,” the boyfriend assumed that this meant whether or not they were able to serve it on that particular day. The smirking waiter readily folded up our menus, most likely happy to cash in on all the tips he would earn. Sometime later a huge fountain of chocolate was making its way towards our table – with 4 waiters carrying it, another lighting the sparklers on top of it (Yes, they were served with actual sparklers!). So here we sat, trying to devour a dessert easily meant for 6 people. I was contemplating whether or not we should sue the restaurants for not warning us how huge it was (which, had this happened in New York, would have been the logical consequence). We ended up paying 90 dollars for the entire fun of a simple dessert and I vow to warn every one of my friends to always ask for the price and size of a meal with this restaurant. And that was our (slightly tainted) experience at the Barton G, an otherwise lovely spot to bring friends and dates.

Huge chocolate fondue fountain
Huge chocolate fondue fountain

Day 2 and Day 3 were mostly spent at the beach, since it was slowly warming up. I even managed to get a sunburn on our last day, as the sun viciously perpetrated the 55+ sunblock on my skin, even though I kept re-applying it meticulously. Yes, this means the sun is very strong down south, even if you go in mid-January!

Then the stroll through town, past the Outlet, which attracts a lot of tourists and locals. I didn’t find anything worthy buying in those quite expansive stores but it was still fun to pop in and check out Miami fashion. Lots of skin, lots of flashy colors – a summer city no matter what season.

During night, we ended up bar-hopping: First in hotels and then throughout smaller joints. Starting at the Raleighs, we went on to the Delano. They had a gorgeous outdoor space, with hotel beds propped up, so that you could sit and lie down while getting drinks from the outdoor bar. The pool even offered two chairs and a table in the middle of the water. While the crowd did not necessarily attract us, we still had a good time.We also noticed that drinks are rather expensive in this town. We payed $17 for cocktails at any hotel and just a little more than $10 when we went anywhere else. With prices as high as in New York you would expect the night life to be equally appealing. Perhaps we were just at the wrong spots. The FDR at the Delano certainly did not do it for us. It was an underground club-type setting with a mediocre DJ and bouncy Eurotrash tuning in to the songs. Oh, the people walking around in South Beach? A ton of Europeans. But not so much of the appealing sort, sadly spoken. We kept looking around, expecting to see drop-dead gorgeous people but were severely disappointed. Just average people trying to feel good about being in Miami. Then of course a lot of Americans from the South and Florida itself.

The second night we spent wisely at the Havana, a Cuban-style restaurant in the middle of the tourist center. Such a kitschy hotspot that it was almost adorable to walk through. The drinks were good at the Havana, the food was ah-okay. My fish was not convincing, but his chicken entrée was supposedly great.

We went on to people-watching at the Douce, a place with a round bar and lots of locals who like to watch sports and observe the oblivious tourists occasionally popping in. Drinks are cheap, which is another reason to come back.

Coconut on the beach
Coconut on the beach
Me with my coconut happily soaking in the sun
Me with my coconut happily soaking in the sun

And finally – our last night on the beach. Discovering a stolen wallet with three different credit cards inside. We tried to drop it off at any cop who was watching the streets but they kept pointing us towards the big police station in the middle of town. We finally gave up and walked in there. Waited for thirty minutes until a lazy officer took down the details. Our luck that another family walked in, also requesting to return a stolen wallet, so that we were finally freed of Miami bureaucracy.

Our flight back was at 6 AM and it took us another 1 ½ hours with a shared-ride shuttle to get to Fort Lauderdale. In case you were thinking about doing this: Perhaps renting a car or simply reserving a taxi would be the better solution. Although it’s slightly more expensive, it won’t take you 2-times as long to get from A to B, plus you won’t have to deal with sour passengers sitting next to you.

south beach chocolate fondue

[Oh, and our chocolate fondue? This is what was left of it on our very last day on the beach…!]

[For more pictures of Miami, go to Miami Calling (Part II)!]

My Trip to Miami in the Middle of January (I)

south beach bird flying in sky

The blistering cold of a New York winter that has finally arrived painfully reminds me how hot and sunny it was only two weeks ago in Florida. It was mid-January, when I joined the flock of New Yorkers who take a trip down to Miami when the City is too cold to endure during those 4 cold winter months.

Flying to Miami from here is convenient. Landing at Fort Lauderdale or Miami airport and soaking in the sun for a couple of days – easily done. The flight is only 3 hours without any time difference, simplifying matters for a mini-vacation.

We booked our flight to and landed in Fort Lauderdale on a chilly Friday morning. With some cool 55 degrees (13 Celsius) blasting at me, I started wondering if I should have packed a jacket or two. Luckily, as the day went by, it turned warmer and warmer, until it reached the mid-70ies almost at midnight (bizarre, isn’t it?).

Since we had booked with a shared-ride company, we were pretty much stuck to see parts of Miami and Miami beach for a total of 1 ½ hours (!) while dropping off a lot of some fellow passengers. Our first impressions were the hotels and then the people entering and exiting these hotels. The boyfriend smirked and let me know that this was exactly what he had expected Miami to be about: The flashy cars and suits, and people trying to act famous. It was a bit of a show, the entire time we were there, I have to admit.

We were glad when we finally arrived at our apartment, booked through airbnb (a site I can highly recommend). In the middle of South Beach we had rented out a lovely studio owned by an Austrian landlord who was eager to show us the hotspots of his adopted home. “I’ve lived here for 17 years” he announced in his strong European accent. “If you want good coffee, go to Las Olas, it has the best breakfast ever!” Oh Austrians and their “good” coffee!

Since it was noon by now, we did not check out this lovely spot but went on to a random Taco Bar, which served some excellent Tex-Mex food. Finding good Mexican food outside of California is always a feat. Miami has many Spanish speakers from Latin country so it was actually not that hard to come across a variety of their restaurants and little food shops.

Finally! Miami Beach!
Finally! Miami Beach!

Next, the beach. Pretty much the only thing we’d been anxiously awaiting since the time we got off the plane. It did not disappoint: Crystal clear water with a clear turquoise tint. White sandy beaches you only see in Florida. The only thing that did disappoint was the weather, of course (think 60 degrees by now). So we gave up on the idea of swimming on our first day here and strolled along the beach.

There is a fair called “The Strip” close to the water, which is most likely the most primitive simple street fair I have seen in a long time. Tents are built up to show off some overpriced random souvenirs you can find in any other beach town. On Saturday, there were old-timers parked on this long road, but other than that I figured there is not really much to see.

Miami Strip Fair
Miami Strip Fair
Hotel pool located close to the beach
Hotel pool located close to the beach

We therefore decided to walk on the wooden roads leading close to the beach but still past the hotels and we got glimpses of their glamorous outdoor pools, their bar areas at the water, and the nice lay-outs you must only see in Miami. An afternoon drink at the Raleigh and a snack at one of the most Southern restaurants you will find in South Beach. The Yardbird is one institution – off the main hotel road, in the middle of the town. It serves peculiar items such as the Yam-hattan and the Cheddar Waffle. Yes, a sweet waffle topped with bourbon syrup, cheddar cheese and home-made pickled relish. Best culinary experience of the entire trip! Indeed, the boyfriend and I were so thrilled to try out their dinner special, that we spend our entire last night here, feasting on other Southern specialties and their locally brewed beers. Oh, and beware: Some dishes do not contain meat!

Best Cheddar Cheese Waffle ever invented!
Best Cheddar Cheese Waffle ever invented!
They don't like vegetarians at the Yardbird...
They don’t like vegetarians at the Yardbird…

[For more pictures on Miami go to Miami Calling (Part I)]

Looking for Roommates in New York: The Other Side of the Charade

rommate in new york

You probably have already gathered from my two previous posts (read more here and here) that renting out rooms and looking for roommates is an ongoing flow in New York. And, unfortunately, a quite frustrating flow most of the time. People leave because they move back home. Or because they feel unhappy about their current roommate situation. Or because the 2-hour-commute to work is just too much of a pain the neck. Regardless of all of dubious reasons why people move, looking for roommates is just another part of the game.

Up until recently I was mostly on the other side of the line. I was the one who had to look for a new apartment – and go through my 20-something viewings before picking the right match.

But it has been some lucky 8 months until now and, as the story goes, one of my two roomies decided to move back to California after 5 ½ years of Big Apple time. Well, since moving away from this town is never a month-long-decision, we were left rather short-handed in time to look for another roommate. Speak of 1 week. Although 1 week can be a decent amount with all the candidates looking for a home in this chaotic city.

So we start our casting early on Saturday. Still 5 days to go, no reason to panic yet. Our first one is automatically our favorite: A UK chick, who works for a scientific magazine in Manhattan. Nerd as she stands but with a lovely personality. She is interested in the community garden across the street, as so many other candidates following her. It turns out that the key the roomie purchased for $25 symbolizes the golden passage to a piece of nature right across the street.

Then a French girl walks in, telling us about her current neighborhood. “There are only Mexicans in Sunset Park. They speak Spanish all the time!” “Oh, how do you know they are Mexican? Do you have good restaurants around your place?” my roommate who is moving out replies. Considering the fact that she is of Mexican descent, she already looks quite doubtful at this, in her opinion too honest, candidate. “No, It’s awful, no good restaurants, no bars, nothing!” French girl catapults herself right into the trap. “Well, they surely could be Chilean or Ecuadorian, no?!” my now irritated roommate insists. “No no, they are Mexican for sure!” the Frenchie insists. The male roomie is immediately drawn to her blonde hair and strong accent, trying to find reasons for her to move in. After she clarifies that she will move out in August but come back in December, I pretty much give up. The male roomie suggests that she could always find a sub-renter for those 4 months in between but we look at him quite doubtful. Nice way to bring more random people into our home!

Finally, a Chilean girl appears. She is in her 20ies, works very hard, and will barely be home. She seems nice but apprehensive. Because she is currently living with her ex-boyfriend she is seeking to move out. Of course not an ideal situation to be in, we understand. She would also like her father to stay with us whenever he visits her (How often this might be? Who knows!).

Although we both agree that option 1 and 3 are good solutions, we still wait until Sunday evening to make a decision. Perhaps a mistake, perhaps not. 2 candidates flake out, and the 2 remaining are anything but convincing. A quiet freelance writer and photographer who works in Carroll Gardens but who will be moving out for grad school in Fall (to a different state). Since we already stated in our ad that we are looking for temporary roommates, this really does not work with our schedule.

Then an overly enthusiastic girl who jumps at us from the get-go. “I’m a good roommate!” she proclaims while she flounces through the door. “I am the best in the world and will do anything to bullshit my way into this place” is what her attitude conveys. Her bio is rather not convincing: Studied in London for a while but then came back to her family in New York. Currently lives with her parents. So this overly flaky, overly ridiculous human being is sitting on our couch, patiently telling us about her “awesome” life and that the reason she is an hour late is because she was stuck in traffic coming all the way from Westchester. The female roomie drifts off, checking for further candidates on her e-mail. The male roomie and exchange glances in between. We hardly have a chance to mention what we do but are polite enough to tell her how much utilities cost. The word charade has been just invented for this candidate…

As we make our decision, we discover to our dismay that UK girl is looking for a more “social” environment (think baking cookies and drinking wine together every other night) and Chilean girl is looking for something more permanent (we figured this was a lame let-down).

rommate casting like dating

Therefore, round 3 of our roommate casting begins on Monday. Since it’s only 3 legitimate days of searching to go, we squeeze in a total of 10 candidates in one (!) evening! As the male roomie correctly states, we are starting to resemble a youth hostel. By now we have already noticed that our apartment seems to be “the next hot thing.” Conveniently located from Atlantic Terminal in a 5 minute walk, it offers all commodities of bars, restaurants, and quietness in a great area in Brooklyn! And of course the room is big, as is the price swell for such a thriving hotspot.

I select 8 candidates who pour their heart out to me in their e-mails. Two girls are not even in New York but are eager to set up a skype date or bus the 2-hour route from Philly just to look at our “great room.” I shake my head at how desperate people can seem when looking.

Luckily, I only get to see half of the people. The other half drops by before 8 PM. The other 2 roommates are there to show them the room.
I gather from their sunken faces when I walk through the door that the casting has not yet been a success. “This Israeli girl really felt comfortable around our spot!” female roomie complains. “She was jumping all over our kitchen furniture and just wouldn’t want to shut up.” – “Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy who was telling so many lame jokes at once” male roomie chimes in about another person.

Our next candidate is a 25-year-old who works in Dumbo and stems from DC. Although male roomie should be thrilled by this candidate (since he studied and lived in DC), he slumps in our chair and looks at the guy with his mouth halfway open. Think zombie-like fashion. The guy essentially is creeped out and turns towards me and female roomie. He seems to have an interesting life but the vibes are not quite right… Plus the zombie in the corner is very distracting! We talk how roommate casting can resemble dating because you have to discuss so many personal things (Do you have a significant other? How early do you get up in the morning?).

The Ukranian girl who follows next does not approve of the heater making “such loud noises at night.” We are talking about slow wavy motion hollering through the heat. And the guy who follows has awkward social skills and a nervous laugh. Finally, an Australian girl in chic fashion walks through our door. She seems to really want the room, a clear answer we are seeking for. She also seems to fit our personalities, although it is really hard to tell in those 15 minutes we are able to spend with her. We finally simply give up on the idea of interviewing more people on Tuesday and offer her the room. So now it’s another female roomie, me, and the male roomie – trying to make it work!

[Oh and what I will never forget? That one guy who was thrilled by my first response and e-mailed me a total of 3 more times trying to find out our address. “Hi, I am still walking around your neighborhood. It’s pretty cold outside and I’d really like to look at the room if you can squeeze me in!” were his e-mails to me. Get a life, stalker!]