Exploring the Brit Capital: London (Day 2)


The very next day I paid the British Museum a visit. Just from the outside, as I already had been inside before. From here I strolled through Soho and Chinatown, the latter which I had been looking forward to returning to, since it’s quite picturesque and pretty. Read More »

Photo A Day: May 4 Through 6

What a fun weekend has passed! And thanks to the new challenge I have the chance to update you a bit more with pictures from my personal life and thoughts on it…

I still haven’t figured out if I want to post a picture every day or every week, so maybe I’ll just keep it at the three-day-cycle. It comes quite in handy for the schedule I have going on right now!

A fun Friday night at my very first store launch party in SoHo. More to come soon in a separate post but this is the scene in which I take a shot with some random Asian girls during the evening. We ended up going to Williamsburg after this and I stayed out until late, but that particular Friday started with a bam!

A tribute to my 2 and a half days spent in London last September. I had so much fun exploring the Brit capital, I immediately had to think of this picture when the photo challenge mentioned the word bird. Pidgeons next to the London Eye – who would not feel travel sick?

This is it! The most recent picture you’ll be seeing of me! Shot today in Coney Island, after spending a fabulous Sunday afternoon there. And no, summer is not here yet, but it doesn’t mean I cannot go to the beach, right? Despite the weather, I still had to bundle up a bit… I am quite confused as to how and when summer will start in the City but I am happy once it does. Getting rid of the rainy weather is a must!

London in a Nutshell (Part II – Of Course)

Then I ran across some souvenir stores but couldn’t decide which one of those quazillion “I Love London mugs” to purchase so I ended up not buying any at all. The M&M store is quite unimpressive but the chaos at Piccadilly was enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ghetto German tourists at one spot outside of Germany. Before I feared of being transformed back home, I fled to a spot called Camden: An artsy area easily accessible via Piccadilly line off the Camden Town stop. Here you can find unusual useless things such as a fish pedicure (little fish nibble away the skin on your soles, supposedly it only tickles) and stumble across many creative items at the Camden Stables. The Brit had said I should check it out for an hour or two, but I ended up getting lost in its colorful jungle for well over 5 hours! As the myth goes the late Amy Winehouse had her house here, but I wasn’t really in search for that. I did manage to get annoyed with one Muslim cashier who I had thought gave me the wrong amount of change until half an hour later I discovered my own stupidity of not being able to distinguish between the 20pence and 10pence piece. Sorry love, won’t happen again (as you will only reluctantly serve people with an American accent in the future, I am sure!).

Fish pedicure, anyone?
Camden souvenir magic

I even had the desire to stray off the beaten paths and stumbled across Brit-cops who were arresting teenagers for something I couldn’t figure out. After running past some graffiti walls and an unexciting church I decided to finally take on my night-tour at dark and headed back to Green Park. And this I can truly recommend! If you want to see the pure magic of this city, the parts that might be hidden to you when you walk around, and the time of day you will obtain the best impressions, discover London at night! On a bus, safe and sound, and with a British tour guide! It adds to the feeling of originality. And be sure to tip the guy, as people in UK are struggling from the financial crisis, too. This guide took us past the Hyde Park, the Museum of Natural History, the illuminated Harrods’, past the Big Ben, London Eye, and Theater, over the Tower Bridge towards the Waterloo Station back over the London Bridge to the old part of town. And the history behind this old part is simply amazing, I can’t wait to read or hear more about it. One day I will walk those streets and see what they are about during day light.

With the bus tour being such a high success I was eager to cash in my second ticket I had purchased at the hostel: A ride with the London Eye! And this I did the day after.

But first, on my second day in this wonderful historical city, I went to Hyde Park, enjoyed watching the true Brits pass me by on horses and in a carriage (this has so much more flair than the touristy carriages in Central Park!), continued on to Green Park and eventually ended up at Buckingham Palace. Here my ultimate luck came into play, as it was the day of the guard change (this only happens every other day), and at 11 AM the first parade came marching down the street: Red uniformed guys with huge black bear fur hats, playing the trumpet while kicking their legs up in the air. What an act! I didn’t want to lose too many minutes, so I regretfully continued my journey after 20 minutes of watching. It was a spectacle, nevertheless. On my way to Westminster Bridge I passed through the business district of London, or so it felt. Fancy stores and shops advertising overpriced clothes; women and men in costumes and suits hectically walking past the tourist with the over-sized camera.
Then Westminster Abbey with the one and only Big Ben. Street performers impersonating the Queen on the bridge. And finally: the London Eye!

Carriage in Hyde Park

The ultimate tourist in front of Buckingham Palace

Despite the warnings my hostel attendant had issued the lines weren’t too bad. I passed some small groups and went to the express lane, which I had bought a ticket for at the hostel but it hadn’t cost me any extra. Before you enter the cubicles, they lead you into a 4D theater (sorry, cinema!) and for 5 minutes you get to see the an animated film about how great the Eye looks during all seasons year-round. I really liked the New Year’s Eve shot as it adds a nice touch to stand close to an illuminated blue wheel when fireworks go off above the city.

The London Eye offers an amazing view, I have to say. I recommend doing this but once you’ve done it there aren’t really too many reasons to do it twice. Unlike the Empire State Building platform you cannot choose how long to stay but your cubicle is in constant move and you have to adjust to all the new sites in front of you. London is expansive and it looked beautiful on that particular day. I enjoyed spending 20 minutes above the roofs of the city but also considered them a bit short.

After being the ultimate tourist, I checked out the Sherlock Holmes museum at tada Baker Street and went inside their cute souvenir store. Old-style phones and statues with magnifying glasses – definitely going to need those in real life!

Regent’s Park is right around the corner and worth the walk. I assume the Queen Mary’s gardens with flower beds are nice to look at during the (cold?) summer months. My last sight for that day was the historic St. Paul’s church: A piece of jewelry made out of stone and decorated with Roman style figures disguised as fountains in front. Gorgeous! The spot seems to be popular for old-school-Londoners taking in their lunch or reading the Evening Standard, as I spotted a few on the steps.

My last night out was a whirl of barhopping: A 30-people-bar on our way to Soho. Great for cocktails. A gay bar in Soho. Great for gay men. An Asian fusion restaurant around Picadilly. Great for fast food. A beer at a bar filled with drunks. Great for making fun of Brits. A walk past Hyde Park and back. Great for choosing which Lamborghini you want. And a last drink (whiskey and ginger ale!) at the only bar open at such a “late”hour: 24-hour-hotels! The Brit and I made it until 2 AM. Good-bye’s are always so sad!

On my last morning I managed to pack my stuff without forgetting a single thing in the room and scooped in one hour at the British Museum. Now one hour is pathetic for so much history at one spot, but I still got some nice shots and I also saw the ultimate goddess among the antiques: Rosetta Stone! Boy, was I proud of myself!

Venus hiding from the eyes of an intruder

The return to Germany is blurry, as I remember stepping on a dozen British feet when hurrying along busy tube tunnels to fetch my bus at Victoria Station. One lady got very mad with me as she heightened her voice and pointed out that this had been the third person already I had shoved out of my way. I think I failed to accurately respond and correct the number upwards.
The shuttle to Stansted took us almost 2 hours, which well over one was spent in London. I guess it can take a long time to get out of this city. And the flight, well, the flight… Ryanair is a different story, to be told in a different post!

Things never to forget:
The mean brush that had almost made me cry when it wrapped itself around my hair and I almost considered having it cut off before the nice Asian British girl stepped in and helped me detangle it. Thank you!
The high amount of French (fast) food found on practically every street corner: Pret-a-manger and crêpes being among the British favorites. Yummy crêpes at the Camden Stables being among my favorites. They might have a weak spot for French food, the English.
The oyster card I lost on my last day and the 5 pound deposit I had to pay when obtaining a new one. Of course I never had the necessary time to return it and actually get my money back, as the run to the bus was too hectic.
The nice employee at the British Museum who took my suitcase considered “overweight” by the garderobe department and stored it in the kids’ department for one pound only.
Other things are best kept in London…

London in a Nutshell (Part I – Of Course)

Ice-cold guiness. Stiff Brits. Centuries of history to digest!
My trip to London was about as eventful as it was confusing, as impressive as it was intimidating, as much fun as it was sad to leave again. To date I still ask myself how stupid I was to dedicate only 4 days in the Brit-Capital, whereas one week wouldn’t have been enough, but at least I got to see the metropolis before I returned to the American continent, which had really been one of my long-burried dreams. As you might recall, I was curious to know how London’s 8 million citizens compared to New York’s 8 million inhabitants. After being there and seeing it, I still can’t give you a satisfying answer to this.

The general impression I got from the crowd on the tube, in the bars, on the streets, during tours and sight-seeing was simple: Brits might seem stiff at first, with their fancy little suits, dressed-up attitude, and carefully highlighted hair but they are really nice and polite people. The generation I was digging the most were the people above 60 years of age, for I consider them the true gentleladies and gentlemen. It has some sort of appeal talking to these old veterans when standing in a line to a supermarket and trying to figure out their opinion on various countries or on their perspective of London. I issue a special thanks to the very patient couple at Ryanair airport who didn’t grow tired of repeating the innumerable ways of transport from Stansted to the city and getting around the city centre. The same goes to the lady employed by the National Rail who repeatedly mentioned several tube names and stations I had to take to get to my destination (she was in her 30ies, so I guess generations are irrelevant).

Completely disorganized I had failed to look at a map before I entered the country, so I was a bit at a loss at the airport already. When my flight arrived an hour too late, the clock showed 8 PM and taking a bus or shuttle was not really a comfortable choice for me anymore. My friend was supposed to meet me around Russell Square, so I waged my options and took a fast train towards the Tottenham Hale stop. From there it was easy to take a tube to named square and all I had to do is wait until the Brit picked me up, for I was completely unsure which street to take from there on (I had finally managed to get a hold of a subway map but still didn’t own a map of London’s street names and crossings). He was very nice, this guy, and gladly walked me to the hostel I was staying at: The Generator Hostel!

I spent a total of three nights here and my first impression hasn’t been taunted by the following impressions I gained over the course of time: A huge building hosting around 1000 people from all walks of life but youngsters being the majority, constituting a haven for parties, booze, and fun. I don’t really stay in hostels too often. This had been my fourth one (yes, despite me liking to travel). I shared a room with 9 other people and I have to say that it worked out quite well. The first night I came home I was greeted by two Italian guys and the three of us were trying to pull our stuff from underneath the bed without waking the others (lights were turned off). The flashes of our cell phones in our hands, wandering across bed sheets and sleepy faces, must have looked about as spooky as it must have been hilarious to an outsider. Then there was this 70-something man staying in our room who had to go back to London once every six months for extending his visa to India. After his retirement he had made it out to Goa and I could have listened to his picturesque descriptions about the beaches, people, food, and life style forever. I also really hope the Argentinean girl made it to her next destination safe and sound, and maybe she will have a great stay in the Big Apple next year. What was truly surprising to me, even though I had mastered three other hostel experiences before, was the randomness of groups of suited-up individuals in their 30ies or even 40ies, who had obviously rented out a room and were staying in a YOUTH hostel. Maybe I should become as open-minded as they when I am in my 40ies.

My first night out was already an accumulation of London’s exotic diversity in terms of cuisine: The Brit invited me for an ice-cold guiness at a local bar (I have to admit it truly tastes amazing when ice cold) and then we went for Indian dinner in the Soho area (forgive me if I am wrong, as I didn’t really have the areas right during my first stay). Even though this restaurant was not high-class it looked pretty fancy from the outside – a misperception, as my friend pointed out, but I was still thrilled to dine in such an environment. After ordering one main dish and splitting an appetizer, which I could of course not finish, I was really carried away at how fine Indian dishes taste in London and I doubt I will be able to eat this authentic anywhere else (the same goes for Mexican food outside of Cali and Mexico). We ended the night with a late-night beer at a typical Irish bar called O’Neill’s, before we got kicked out at 11PM already. Yep, they stick to those closing times, the Brits! But to be honest, I was dumb-founded at the speed the drinks were devoured and poured into booze-hungry throats so that I am not too surprised when seeing stumbling Brits at 10 PM in New York anymore. I guess they have a different understanding of enjoying a drink or two, these Islanders, and our pathetic New York day-time-drinking won’t measure up to their standards.

First night over, first real day to start: Sight-seeing! I knew my time was extremely limited as soon as I finally opened up a real map I had obtained at the hostel reception. Boy! I was pretty glad to see my “babysitter” for lunch again, as I was desperate to ask him for the hotspots I could see during the following two real days. Well, first I went off to King’s Cross and St. Pancras, a nice hotel built next to the station. Harry Potter’s 9 ¾ platform is a bit disappointing, I dare say, and Kings’ Cross looks like a normal train station, but I just had to check it out.
Russell Square, on the other hand, is a nice area to stay, as it is central to the tube and buses that take you almost anywhere. From there you can also comfortably walk to the center of the fun, meaning to Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and the rest of the entertainment. I think I would stay here again if I had the choice.

Russel Square
tony and guy

After exploring several parts of Soho already, and stumbling over the ultimate Toni & Guy salon (unintentionally but when I did I just had to peek in), I met the Brit for British lunch: Fish and Chips.

So this is the deal: You can’t just stuff a French fry into your mouth and shove the fish after. You have to carefully pour vinegar over the entire dish, dip the fish into the tartar sauce and then indulge in what isn’t bad at all. I like it! I only had it once but that one time was very convincing! While being distracted by London’s bar culture during lunch, my friend circled a few areas I should see and handed me the map. First it went off to Chinatown, which I have to say is prettier than New York’s Chinatown. And Chinese people do speak English there; unlike in the Big Apple, where you can get around on your Mandarin or whatever other dialect you’re speaking. I took these nice shots after a short rain shower (I noticed these tend to happen at 3PM in the afternoon).

Back Again, Back Again, Once Again I Am Back Again!

Loaded not only with an extra bag or two of chocolates but also weighed with memories worth a ton I return to the American continent. As for today, I’ve already slept the obligatory 12 hours after two days of restlessness and now I should be good to go. 18 days might seem long at first but they were really too short in hindsight as time has flown by in a wink.
Quick hours in the medieval city of Koblenz, a brief stay in Heidelberg and Schwetzingen, a glorious trip to the British capital, and a one-week-period of seeing family and friends again have made this excursion back home unforgettable. A bittersweet taste still lingers on my tongue as I try to sort out my thoughts on various trips and experiences. Overall, it was fantastic to reconnect with old and new people but of course it is always sad to say goodbyes in the end. Especially since I truly never know when I will see these people again.
Now, just let me figure out how to put these thoughts in words and colorful pictures and then I can’t wait to share with you all the great impressions I was able to accumulate in two very different countries. Fall in Europe – surely one of the best times for a visit!

PS: I couldn’t happen to notice an abundance of nice blog posts I’ve completely missed out on throughout the past two weeks! You’ve surely been creative, I have to say. Looks like I will take some time to read all the exciting things you guys have come up with recently!

Time to Say Good-bye

The time has come to conclude this week’s posts with a good-bye, see you soon writing.
Irene has flooded, hurdled, and winded New York a bit and even induced the temporary closing of JFK for an entire weekend ( I hope Irene is very proud of herself!) but she has not managed to delay my flight to FRA (Frankfurt International Airport) today. Therefore, I will be getting out of this despicable dirt hole whirling madhouse city called the Big Apple in less than 24 hours, which is this night, September 1st (I know, most ideal date to fly!). The plan is to come back on Sept 18 (There, I even gave you the EXACT date! Hah!), but who knows if I ever decide to take that plane back… Homesickness is still there. Well, until I made up my mind, I am nonetheless planning on rejoining my very different life in the city of New York on Sunday in two and a half weeks.

Since I am going on a vacation, I doubt I will be able to update you with new stuff from the continent of Europe. However, don’t hesitate do click on here once in a while, as there are many old posts that deserve some reading. For the ultimate list of highlights, check out this link.

And if you get bored with reading through the most recent posts and the top ten, how about you do some discovering on your own? Especially for those subscribers who have joined me pretty recently in the past few weeks, just go here to start from the beginning. 18 days is a nice time to read through one post after another, you could do it two posts a day, three posts a day, or no posts a day – however you want.

The plan is to go home for a week, then visit old friends at my former university town until I hit London up for a stay of four days (I know, waaay too short). Thus, I’ll be seeing at least one new exciting place, as I have never been to UK before, and I’m sure it will be an interesting adventure. I am actually itching to know how the Brit capital compares to the biggest metropolis of the US, but I have the feeling these two cities do not like to be compared to each other, after all…

See you soon, folks! Hope I’ll have some new pictures I’ll be able to show you soon and some funny stories I can share with you. Arrivederci, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Bye and tune in for more news in September!
Winke Winke!

A Few Words on Heimweh

The first feeling of homesickness showed up unannounced on my doorstep on January 15, 2011. I remember this day so exactly because it was the day I thought I would turn crazy. All the ups and downs of emotions I was going through and all the things I was trying to do to prevent this feeling from slowly taking me over – oh how I still know it all too well. I posted a long status on homesickness on my Facebook page. I shot a video about homesickness with my cell phone camera. I wrote down a journal entry on homesickness. Nothing seemed to help. I went through weeks of sadness and pain, only increased by the bland, gray winter that had taken over New York.

My Austrian friend finally gave me a good tip. She said I should not dwell on this feeling but rather distract myself with other things to do. To emphasize her point, she wrote me a few nice lines and gave me some treasure hunts to accomplish. This finally gave me the idea of discovering new places and trying out new locations in New York and around, albeit it was in a hurtful manner I took these on, for my heart was still aching every time I thought about Germany.

Up until recently I didn’t notice that I had probably never overcame the feeling of homesickness after it took me over in January. When I booked my ticket en route home a few months ago I finally felt a relief of several sorts. First, I was happy to set foot back again in the country of honey and milk. Second, I couldn’t wait to see those few friends who hadn’t made it out to a visit during the past one and a half years. Third, I was desperate to travel to more locations in Europe to check out some other big cities.

I had felt so good in the beginning, because New York had kept me busy for the first 9 months of my voyage. Even though I had a return flight scheduled for August of 2010, I never took this opportunity to go back because I felt no need to fly home after five months already. I wanted to wait until I had achieved something I could tell my friends and family about. The airline set the ticket back and determined the latest date I could use it would be March of 2011. The closer this date drew, the more I knew I would not be able to afford to go back in spring by means of time and money. Maybe this is also when I realized that the date I would return home would be indefinite and it could have triggered some negative thoughts about being stuck in New York.
Indeed, a friend from France thought it not wise to stay away from home for so long. He makes the effort of going back to Bordeaux every now and then, in intervals of four to five months. I consider this not to be a bad idea, either, when looking at how many weeks I have felt miserable just because I couldn’t take my thoughts of the question of when would I be able to return home.

I had effectively managed to keep myself quite busy in the months before: There was so much to explore in this area that I felt satisfied just walking up and down the streets – watching the people, the buildings, and the surroundings. Truly, I felt quite the opposite way: Whenever I thought of having to return home, a feeling of pressure overcame me. I knew it was not yet my time, there were still so many things undone in the Big Apple, which had to be carried out first. I had German friends here, who brought with them the native language and the European mentality I was really not missing all too much in 2010.

On top of this all, I was distracted from the so-called family-oriented holidays because of my visitors during these crucial times: Two of my closest German friends paid me a visit during the two big holidays in fall. For Thanksgiving my friend from high school came to New York and stayed for one week straight. We had our own dinner-to-say-thanks and brushed off the chaos of Black Friday with a laugh. During the Christmas days, known as the ultimate family holiday, my friend of the past 15 years came to Brooklyn with her younger sister and I never thought about being home for a second. They also brought many German sweets which lasted a month and stilled my cravings for home-known food.

Thus, November and December were quite tolerable. January was different. January brought the cold and made me hate winter for the first time here. I couldn’t bear the thought of witnessing yet another snow fall. I was convinced I would never see the light of day, not to mention spring, in the City again. The summer seemed so far away and like another era long passed and certainly never to return. Everything appears to be more depressing during winter days over here, so it certainly did not do much in alleviating my sorrow.

After giving into my pain for a while, I jumped into the opposite direction and right onto the travel track: I made it to Boston, DC, and Las Vegas – three trips within one and a half months. I did help as I met many like-minded Europeans and other travelers from all over the world who could share my pain and distract me from my pitiful thoughts. They also showed me how to have a good time despite homesickness and opened my eyes to a world dedicated to discovering new continents, triggering dreams in me of traveling the globe one day.

Unfortunately, homesickness does not only happen to me (I am sorry to say). And New York has this thing of you being completely satisfied and occupied in the city of heaven and hell until well into 9 months of your stay. Then it slowly creeps up on you and hits you with such a force you have no choice but to fall down hard. Which makes it so much more difficult to get back onto your feet again. I heard from several other accounts that nine months is a good point in time to expect homesickness kicking in. So prepare yourself for this if you are thinking of moving to the Big Apple.

Now it is two more weeks until I will board my plane to FRA International Airport and spend 18 lovely days on the continent of Europe again. I combined a stay at home with a stay at my university town and even managed to shove in a visit to London (this has been on my list ever since I moved to New York as I am itching to compare these two cities).
Maybe when I come back I will be able to appreciate the beauty of New York once more in a way I have not been capable of since the beginning of this year. The wish of being home again has been just too deeply rooted in the back of my head.