South Iceland: Jokulsarlon and Crystal Beach

Crystal Beach magic
Crystal Beach magic

The next morning held a special surprise for us: The sky opened up, revealing the beautiful sugar-capped volcanoes and a breath-taking landscape. After more than 48 hours of constant snowfall, we were finally able to see Iceland in a sunny light (which I still remembered from April). And after an energizing breakfast and some more socializing, we were finally up to an adventure. As in proper hiking and exploring of the stunning scenery. Read More »

Travel Hassles: The First Few Days

SNOW!! Again!
SNOW!! Again!

I left New York on a sunny spring day and arrived in Germany on possibly one of the dreariest days of March. As soon as I got off the plane, the weather changed from depressingly gray to white. Snowflakes came tumbling down, covering the still frozen ground with yet another layer of ice and winter. I thought I was set back in a bad movie. The first two weeks of my trip from March to the beginning of April were basically a bad joke weather-wise. It was cold, it was rainy, it was winter-like, and it still snowed on occasion. Nothing I would have imagined for a usually warm spring in the motherland!

“It must be meteorite that hit Russia in February” a relative concluded during our annual Easter feast with the family. “It has seldom been this cold in April. The snow we expected to have for Christmas is now here for the Easter bunny!” she went on. Surely enough, a few days after my arrival I looked out of the window and even more snow was piling up outside, but this time in Northern Germany, far away from our Southwestern home. As the tale went, there had only been one week of spring bliss in Germany, and this had been in the very beginning of March. After some astonishing 15 Celsius, the weather had drastically changed for the worse. So much to coming home at the “right” time of year.

Oldest Castle in Luxembourg
Oldest Castle in Luxembourg

My search of finding new and innovative things to do during a complete fail in temperatures was more meager than successful. Yes, my family lives close to Luxembourg and Belgium, yes, there should have been plenty of opportunity for sightseeing and exploration. But then you always need a car to get around and Brussels would be another 2 and a half hours out of my way. So I’m lucky that I’ve come to look at a few milestones while visiting: The oldest castle in Luxembourg, which lies in Vianden. Then Trier, of course, the oldest Roman city in Germany. Even Berlin was crappy weather-wise, but luckily this changed during the very last days!
Therefore, keep in mind that weather significantly influenced how I experienced my time abroad this year and how I formed my impressions on certain places.

Berlin and its symbol
Berlin and its symbol

In addition to the things I cannot change, another thing has become increasingly annoying: The never-ending quest of finding a good average of how to stay in touch. Especially when trying to see friends dispersed throughout the entire country and negotiating when and where to meet up. I don’t think people realize how much stress it can be to organize a trip from abroad and then find the right time to see each other again. Sometimes it is better to keep it low, just see who really wants to see you, and then have the courage to say no to everyone else. I spent two days in the Heidelberg area but this time I’ve only come to see Heidelberg itself for one afternoon, if even. Although it was worth it, since I knocked out 3 dates total. And Berlin was probably the most successful in terms of meeting old and new friends, as I got to see 4 people at once!

So with all of these obstacles kept in mind, I hope you will enjoy flipping through the following posts!

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.

IMG_1972

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!

Where is the Winter in New York?

Ever since November has come around I have been fearing the cold. I have shivered at the thought of putting on two extra layers, and a hat and mittens. I have been grossed out by the prospect of how long yet another winter in New York would be.

But now it’s January. We had spring-like temperatures in November. We had 10 Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) on New Year’s Day. And we had a wonderful warm, sunshiny day last Saturday. I am beginning to wonder what the lack of cold means for the rest of this year. So far, this has only been my second winter in New York.

Last year had been quite the opposite: After the summer of the century, the winter of the decade followed brutally and without much of a forewarning. Snow chaos one day after Christmas. Streets left uncleared days after the storm. Subways, which weren’t operating, and snow days at work. Feet-high piles of the white wonder which could not disappear to anywhere – not back onto the streets it had come from and not to the sideways which were still blocked themselves.
It had all started quite innocently on December 26th, when the first flakes of snow had come tumbling down the sky.
“Oh, how beautiful – your first snow in New York!” my German friend had exclaimed. She was visiting me together with her sister, and both had had their share of snow in Deutschland already for the year 2010. However, this was my very first snow in the Big Apple and I was pretty excited. But for some reason, the snow decided not to stop but rather to keep on coming down from the sky. During late afternoon we were fighting our way through a full-blown blizzard when coming from the post-Xmas-shopping spree (not worth it!) on 5th Ave. At night time I received a call from a friend who couldn’t make it out to his apartment in New Jersey. Both tunnels were closed and there was no way of getting across the bridge to the other state. He had to stay over in my place, which was slowly but surely turning into something resembling a youth hostel. We crammed together a few blankets and air mattresses but my friend and I thought we had to work tomorrow so we didn’t stay up as late as the others did. Of course the next day was a snow day. Snow day meant a work-free-day in New York.
The next day, I remember wandering around deserted Times Square which was covered underneath a still fluffy white blanket. I remember slipping when trying to cross streets. Then checking out Century 21, possibly one of those few stores open during that time. More snow coming down on December 27th. New Year’s Eve had indeed turned into a mess for those who stayed in the City. Philly was a bit warmer.

Hidden cars one day after the first blizzard
The streets were still not cleared two nights after this...
Troops of snow shovelers driving down Manhattan

And then January of 2011: Bittercold wind howling through the streets. So frosty that even the weather-proof BelaRussians did not want leave the house unless they really had to. I truly got to understand the meaning of wearing a hat: Not for the sake of looking good but for the sake of keeping your ears warm and your mind sane. There is nothing worse than cold wind that blows through one ear and escapes through the other –leaving your brain at a cold temperature. That is possibly also the reason I bought a fur-coat with a hood this year: After seeing how practical a knee-long coat was that offered the possibility to keep the wind away from your head, I was easily convinced to buy something equally practical for this winter. Up until then, I never understood the countdown advertised all around New York. “The countdown is on, 120 more days until winter ends,” I heard on the radio and read on subway ads all over the city. But those two months in the beginning of the year, I’m telling you, they really made you believe that counting down days to spring is the only option you have to mentally survive!
And while winter in Europe starts to clear up in February, this month is the worst on the American East Coast. I thought it couldn’t get frostier after December or January. But February pretty much topped it all: Getting outside was a true torture! Walking around Manhattan for no reason was not an option for me. Going out, having fun, or partying meant running from one bar or one club to another. It was definitely one of the worst but also one of the most entertaining times of my stay here. You really start appreciating the plans you have for New York when the weather is utterly disgusting outside. You start missing every minute of the past summer and start loathing the time spring will show up. Which of course was a long time from then, but how could we have known?

So, that was how winter in New York in 2010/2011 had been.

A nice contrast to what it is right now. I just started wearing a hat this morning. Not even for the purpose of necessity but just because it got “a little too cold” outside. Last Saturday felt like spring in March: People were wearing sweaters, dresses, or T-Shirts and strolling around Prospect Park and the Slope. In the beginning of January! If winter is truly to last until March, then we have about two more months to go. Two more months that might resemble winter. This year it just doesn’t appear to be very extreme. This being said, I’ m not sad anymore I never made it out to Jamaica in January. It has indeed been so mild I am not even getting the winter blues I had last year. The sun likes to shine very brightly now, feeding us with hope that spring will come around. I guess I’ll save that money up and spend it on other travels I intend to do during the rest of the year!

Prospect Park one year ago...
Prospect Park today!

Halloween in New York

Halloween in New York starts early. This year I saw a girl in the midst of July wearing a tiger mask while leaning against the door of a subway car…

Joke aside, Halloween seems to start as early as Septemberish over here. You can see the first decorations popping up along the houses and entryways in early fall. The fences are decorated with fake cow-webs and scary pumpkins, an enumerable amount of lights blinking around the doors and windows, no doubt scaring of every thief in the neighborhood.

This year was actually the first time I was sorta able to enjoy the pre-Halloween fanciness and creativity. Ever since I moved to Park Slope, which is an area where you can indeed find single houses, I have been able to witness how the neighborhood has dramatically changed from stoic to crazy, from old-fashioned to exciting – all of this practically over night. And even out in Bay Ridge, where a friend of mine used to live, I have run across some scary-for-fun-appearing witches and a unique grave yard in the front garden.

Halloween in the Slope
Halloween in Carroll Gardens
Halloween in Bay Ridge

So whatever drives the rest of the US at that time of the year can definitely be found here in New York (and especially Brooklyn) in a highly representable manner.

With all these impressions, I was mentally prepared to do something equally representable on Halloween. Sadly, I have to admit that last year was surprisingly lame, since my friends had convinced me to not go out and nourished the fear in me of getting robbed by masked people in the Village (“Oh yes”, they said, “people in New York use these masks and then just jump tourists.”). Instead, we stayed in and drank a bottle of wine while chatting away – which was nice, too, but not really the proper Hollow’s Eve I had wished for, if you know what I mean.

So this year I had really wanted to do something more exciting. But how it all went down – oh, it was such a pity:

Halloween turned out to be on a Monday (whereas last year it was on a Sunday). Needless to say, that a big bunch of friends and coworkers were confused as to when the BIG HALLOWEEN PARTY was supposed to go down. “Shall we do it on a Friday, on a Saturday, or indeed on a Monday?” most asked themselves, including me. The general notion was to celebrate on Saturday, for this is really the party day of the week, no matter what. But when Saturday came around, a good piece of the Northeast Coast experienced something completely out of the ordinary: IT SNOWED! At the end of October! And I, who had first planned to go to the 9/11 Memorial (which was shut down due to the bad weather conditions) and then dress up for the evening, had to admit that it was completely senseless to get out in the snow mud and cold just for a party probably only a third of the people would be. Not that I even bothered to get a costume beforehand, as I had figured to simply dress up last minute.

Attempted Cowgirl costume...not!

I think I can speak for everyone when saying that Halloween 2011 was a great disappointment for New Yorkers. As I overheard a conversation of two guys on the train the other day who were describing this year’s hollow eve as “half-a**ed” and quite confusing. So I think a good deal of people felt betrayed of their party, get-together, and what not.
Monday was my first day at the new job (read here) and out of great spontaneity I suddenly decided to check out the notorious Halloween Parade in the Village. Yes, the one I had missed out on last year, as the crowd from Union Square had been just obnoxiously huge.

Union Square Zombie

This time I got off right at W4 and even managed to get a good spot right upfront by standing on a fence and shooting some pictures. The general vibe I got from the crowd was mixed: Lots of dressed up college students and other folks, but then also some aggressive gangs who wanted to get into trouble and fight others. And the cops, oh boy, I have to mention them in a whole different post, but they were absolutely ridiculous. I almost got attacked by five of them when they were chasing ONE drunk guy who desperately threw himself on me. This was not very funny, and I was dumbfounded at first but managed to get out of there quickly.

Parade in Greenwich Village

So, after watching for 45 minutes, I sorta had enough. Then the question of interest was: How the heck do I get out of here? I could move neither backwards nor forwards and the crowd was pushing me in two different directions. I am not claustrophobic at all but I can now understand how some people are after experiencing last Monday night. I never got to see my friend, as he was standing somewhere completely different and neither of us could meet in between. Totally frustrated I gave up, there was no way I would make it back into the subway station without being smashed by drunks or waiting 30 mins straight. Therefore I ended up walking through Greenwich Village, past one of those quazillion Darth Vaders, even past a cute quartet of Panda bears (must have been college students), and past the sweet ginger bread man on 14th Street. Finally, after two whole hours, I was back home, way tired and not really in the mood for a good Halloween anymore. So my recommendation to you is, if you really want to celebrate Halloween in New York, do it in private, with a group of friends. Avoid the awful Halloween Parade, unless you want to be trampled on, and make sure it doesn’t snow on THE PARTY DAY of the year!

But other than that it was a fine event!

Village Madness