My West Coast Trip 2016: San Diego, Portland, and Seattle

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Since it looks like I won’t be doing much more traveling this year (except for maybe the occasional daytrip somewhere nearby), I now have a few moments to catch up on all the travels that have happened so far. One of the trips of 2016 was a ten-day-excursion to the West Coast. I had the chance to visit three lovely cities, for about three days each. Read More »

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A Travel is a Travel…

… no matter under what circumstances. Heading home on a rather unexpected note.

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Tomorrow this time I should have landed in Germany and be either wide awake or sound asleep. Right now I am waiting at LaGuardia airport for my flight to Toronto. Yes, Canada. After a short layover I will have made it into Düsseldorf.
I hope you guys have some lovely upcoming holidays and wish you a great week.

A Magical City Called Montreal (II)

At the St. Josephs Oratory I found wonderful flower beds and old-looking steps. Three flights up and I finally noticed a sign: “Reserve aux pelerins qui montent a genoux.” Meaning this section is reserved for pilgrims who will have to kneel their way up. At the far end I could even see two piteous looking women who were absorbed in their prayers and kneeling from one step to another. I couldn’t imagine this being the most comfortable way to ascend but it certainly looks impressive and worshippy.

A group of Indian tourists must have had thought the same. As I descended again, with a nice view ahead of me, they were on the bottom steps, praying towards the monument. I already found this rather amusing, even though I was able to hide my smile in the very last minute. The next thing I know another old lady decided it is time to kneel her way up the midsection. She goes down on her knees, ignoring everyone around her. The group of tourists, once done with paying their respects to such a foreign piece of religion, see how she goes about. At first they are a bit confused. Then the women of the clan start imitating her. They bend down, hold their arms out in worship and kneel up one step at a time. The children soon follow. So do the men. I can see their painful expressions when old bones rub against the what-must-be extremely uncomfortable stones. I am too baffled to intervene at first. Then I hold back. I feel stupid for telling another cultural group that this is not necessary to pay Montreal its respects. People are circumventing the group and using their legs to walk up the stairs. The Indian children look around, I can see the question forming in their mind: “Why do we have to kneel and everyone else gets to go up normally?” As far as I can tell, they followed the kneeling woman up all the way to the top. A total of four excruciating and painful staircases of stone, especially for the elderly. One observation I have taken from this misunderstanding is that their culture seems to be respectful of other nation’s rituals and that they couldn’t stand to make a mistake in public or disrespect the rites and passages of another group.

The rest of the day went by in a whim. Checking in at the hostel. More French dialects, a long line of young people. I felt that even though I am only in my mid-twenties I am among the oldest guests. This might also be because Canada has an official drinking age of 18. I was still a bit at unease. My room was shared with a variety of people: Two students from Boston. Three German girls from Stuttgart, who disappeared the next morning, not without knocking down a few beds and waking everyone up. A newcomer from Melbourne, who is scheduled to study in this city for one semester. A nice chick from New Jersey, who spontaneously joined her friends up to Canada. As you can tell, a nice intercultural mix making up for a typical hostel life. I really would not recommend staying in this accommodation in Montreal otherwise, though. The beds were pretty shaky, the bathroom was tiny, and the breakfast selection rather moderate (no free food).

While I had missed out on the Osheaga, the greatest music fest in Quebec county which took place only one week before, I did manage to stop by during a Heavy Metal festival. Supposedly, there was a concert series on Isle Sainte-Helene and many American and Canadian metallers had made it to the city to see Marilyn Manson and other icons. None stayed in a hostel though, as they camped out in the woods to defend their tough reputation.

The afternoon was well spent on Montreal’s main shopping street: Rue Sainte-Catherine. I had more opportunities to embarrass myself when ordering coffee in French and painfully noticing that my French skills have rapidly vanished within the past years I’ve been away from Europe and out of school. I’ve also had the chance to go into a real Canadian Aldo, to disappointingly see that their prices are still not comparable to New York sale bargains. It doesn’t make much sense to go on a shopping spree in Quebec, because even though the French-Canadian fashion style is different from what you find here, the prices are not too convincing. After all, the Big Apple is simply known for being a fashion mekka and for finding great deals.

Along the Rue Saint Catherine I must have ran across three different churches until I finally made a right down to Chinatown. This city has many churches, domes, and chapels, which make this town even more adorable. Le Quartier Chinois is small but quaint. Of course anything regarding Little China is disappointing after having been to New York and San Francisco. It’s still great to check out, maybe grab a bite, and then settle of towards the Notre Dame. And yes, Montreal has the same-named basilica Paris has. They even look alike, which makes matters even more confusing. The Canadian Notre Dame offers a light show at night and it’s also worth going inside during the day to marvel at the great ornaments and other decoration. It plays a significant part in Franco-Canadienne history and signifies a true milestone in this city.

After this rather eventful day I was too tired to explore Montreal’s nightlife on a Saturday evening out. I geared up for another day in little France and snoozed off for a good ten hours.

A Magical City Called Montreal (I)

Montreal was truly a magical city when I first got there. I arrived at the Berri-Uqam at 7 o’clock in the morning. Let’s not talk about the ride up, that’s reserved for another post. Let’s not mention my confusion when it came to finding the way from the bus central to the subway and then heading back because there was only one restroom. Let’s disregard my initial fear of walking the streets around the bus station and ending up being begged at on every street corner…

My first real stop was Mont Royal. I thought I could get a fantastic view from the city in my first two hours of being here. After walking around the deserted market place, I asked a friendly-looking jogger, whom I took for a local, for specific directions. “You ‘ave to take the bus uep!” she exclaimed in a charming French accent. “It will take yu one ‘our to walk up othervise!” she went on.

I was first rather surprised by her accent and then I was appalled of having to walk up with my heavy traveler’s luggage. I therefore opted to take the 11 bus, which held just in time when I got to the stop. After asking the bus driver for directions, I ended up sitting next to a helpful lesbian Australian chick with chopped off grayish hair. She recommended I get off at the second stop on the hill, not the first as the driver had initially told me to. “It’s a much better view and you can see 180 degrees of Montreal” she advertised the platform. I thought her to be fairly knowledgeable in the whereabouts of this town and wanted to know what else is worth seeing. She mentioned a fountain here and there and then headed out because her stop was due. Not without banging against the window of the bus and giving me her e-mail address before we drove on. The friendliness of random strangers continued after I was stranded at the second stop up the hill.

I found myself helplessly looking through the gates of Cimetière Mont Royal , until turning the other direction and heading towards the green area. A guy with a dog was jogging and exercising along. Meanwhile, it was 8 AM and I was probably the only tourist around shooting pictures of the scenery. He stopped and asked if I was looking for something in particular. He then gave me directions to the ultimate platform of sight-seeing and view-intaking.

I made my way through the foggiest morning I’ve seen in a while. Mystical mists rising from the grounds, covering half of the path in front of me. After following another sign towards the platform I was standing above the city. At first everything was wrapped in fog. No view to be seen from either side. Then, slowly, the haze cleared. I saw a skyscraper here and there. 10 minutes later and I had a beautiful view on Montreal. Since I had all the time in the world, I could observe the people jogging around early in the morning. A lady with a dog stopped nearby. I asked her if this is just a special part of the town or if there is another spot in Montreal where I can catch a better panorama. Baffled, she told me about another platform where I can see more of the forest. Then she wanted to know what exactly is wrong with the view in front of me. I explained to her I cannot really see many tall buildings. She laughed and responded these are all Montreal has. Montreal looks like a small city from so far above. It has about five tall building that stretch up but the rest resembles a flat valley.

I decided to explore more of the Mont Royal, since I was there already and unlikely to return in the next two days. The tourists had awakened. I was not the only one with a camera and taking annoying pictures. A group of Japanese students noticed a squirrel in the trees and made a big fuzz about the small creature. I found it funny to take a photo of them gawking at the natural “wonder.”

Then it was off to the Oratory. Another stop on my way to the hostel. Check-in was at 1PM, I had a lot of time to kill. It was getting hot in this town. I started to notice that a summer in Canada is not always as cold as their winters are known to be. I had only been in this town for a few hours but I already cursed myself for not having brought more T-shirts and short pants. Of course I had a fat vest and sneakers but those will do no good once the temperature hits its 80 something degrees. Not only is the entire East Coast of the US humid but also Canada. Now that you know, don’t make the same mistake I did!

Here I Am!

Back again! From the land of volcanoes, duff, and mysterious moorlands. Past those historic maar lakes, wine regions, and asparagus heartlands towards dark medieval castles and knight tales.

Yes, I am back again from a wonderful time spent at numerous places all over Germany. From North to South, from top to bottom – I’ve done my own little share of traveling during the voyage. And I’ve also discovered that, albeit Deutschland does not appear to be exotic in the traditional sense, it has many cultural places to offer that can still blow me away. Especially after being gone for so long. Where else would you run across signs for bell-founding? Or an excursion to a water castle? I wish I only had the time to check out more of those fascinating things to do. Well, I guess 10 days had to be enough this time around.

So I found myself at:
A bachelorette party in Cologne, a short visit to the city of Heidelberg, a drive up to my grandparents’ house in Niedersachsen.

And, of course, the ultimate reason for my trip: A beautiful Italian-Russian wedding that ended my stay in a bang. Many memories and pictures later I can say: I’ve probably done the most out of my time there. Now let me share the joy with you and start from the beginning…

Goodbye For Now!

It’s time again! I am doing another trip back home, back to Germany. Attending my wonderful friend’s wedding. Getting to see loved ones I have known since forever. Meeting up with people from my student years in the small town of Heidelberg

Yes, I have an eventful 10 days ahead of me. I am afraid I have more planned than I have time. As usual. Tomorrow I will board a plane on my favorite airplane, just like last year. Just like last year, I will first spend time with family, then with friends. Nothing else planned. Just a good old trip home. I am looking forward to seeing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. I am even more looking forward to getting out of New York again. As they say, the City is only as good as you can afford to travel (every once so often). So when I come back, I hope I will see it with different eyes again.

With these thoughts in mind, I am wishing you:
A Happy (early) Easter vacation!

Last year it was Vegas for me, this year it’s Europe! My second trip of 2012, and I am about as excited but also calm as can get. It will be short and sweet.

See you in two weeks!

Chi- Cha- Chicago (Part 2)

We bypassed ice-skaters who performed pirouettes on the McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink. Another factor of interest in Millennium Park are two large screens which were built up at the time we were there. In these, two women were each virtually interacting with each other from one side to another.
During the summer, I heard, many concerts and other cultural events are going on throughout the entire park.

From here, our tour took us to the Navy Pier, which is an amusement center right on Lake Michigan. It has stores and souvenir shops inside and several rides and a Ferris Wheel outside. The aunt and cousin were brave enough to resist the drizzling rain outside while we walked from one end to another. The others stayed inside, all warm and cozy at an exotic green house. All around the upstairs and downstairs area several sculptures bearing flowers could be found. A possible predecessor of the annual Chicago Flower and Garden Show in March?

The Navy Pier is almost 100 years old (I am sure their anniversary is coming up within the next five years) and it is an absolute must-go in the summer. There is not too much to do in the winter, unfortunately, but kids will always be entertained, due to the Children’s Museum inside.

From then on, we had enough of trotting around in the meanwhile pouring rain. We took a cab to Cousin # 3, who lives in an apartment situated in a tall building in the midst of downtown Chicago. He has a great food store just outside of the building and has possible the best walk ever just to get his grocery shopping done. After catching up with everyone and eating out at a typical American restaurant, we started making our way home to where the cousins and aunt lives. This is indeed in the Suburbs, about 40 mins from the city.

At night, I went to my first Blues bar ever. Buddy Guy’s Legends in the South Loop offered a night with Zac Harmon and his band from Tennessee. We spent a good 4 and a half hours of listening to the some great blues while watching the girls and boys getting crazy in front of the band. Then jetlag/tiredness kicked in and there was no way I could have possibly staid up for much longer.

What I noticed more during night then at day was indeed what Chicago is known for: Its wind! Icy, freezing gusts blowing our hoodies from our head and making my face feel numb after only a few minutes outside. If this is how it had been at the end of the winter, then I dare not think about what the previous arctic months had felt like. Or rather: What they usually felt like, as this city had also experienced a relatively mild winter in 2011-12.

The second day was spent in the S’burbs. Catching up with Aunt # 2. Snatching some fine Pizza at an Italian restaurant. Even though the city still stands for good pizza, most of the locations have moved out to the ‘Burbs, offering fine culinary experiences in more down-to-earth spots than ever.

Visiting a huge shopping mall I hadn’t seen in ages. Finding an even finer store called Carson’s, which offered better deals and sassier clothing than Macy’s ever could. What a surprise this was indeed for me, and I am all in for stealing this store and setting it up in Midtown Manhattan.

Then a night out at a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant. Getting to know the cousins’ friends better, since they invited a bunch over to celebrate both of their (close) birthdays at the bar next door.

What was left was one fine Sunday. A sleep-deprived but nevertheless fun-filled day. The relatives wanted to show the girlfriend and me one last thing. So we went to Lincoln Park: A park filled with a zoo, a conservatory, and lots of space to walk. First we did indeed check out the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Albeit small in size, it had every color imaginable. A humidity and heat only known in tropical areas inundated us as soon as we stepped in. We were surrounded by exotic plants and flowers and I couldn’t help it but take the following picture(s).

Surrounded by a true jungle feeling and green heaps of lianas, we made our way out to the next attraction: The Lincoln Park Zoo. Despite the wintry temperatures outside, we still found a good amount of animals. The giraffe and monkeys inside being among the cutest. When bypassing the feeding of the seals and going straight to the big cats, we saw a lonely lioness excitedly jumping around in her isolated area. Then, all of a sudden, a crazy dash all across the stone. Her keeper was arriving and the lion knew she was being feed. The Girlfriend shot a great picture of the yellow fellow crashing towards us and jumping at us, only being stopped by the glass protection.
Overall, we spent some great two hours in both the zoo and the flower power house. The best part about it is that they are for free and always worth checking out – either for a family trip or when you feel like dipping into a different world.

From there on we were just exploring the neighborhood a bit. Walking around the blocks, where I found a quaint store offering bathtub foam in the form of a lollipop. Then we took in a late lunch at the Austrian Café, where they indeed did not speak much Austrian. The girlfriend claims she suspected one employee to have a German accent but that was of course when we were long-gone and standing outside. A fail to discover from my side, I agree.

Lincoln Park is in the up and coming, as far as I can tell. High loft buildings are built around churches, and older houses are bought up from the bourgeoisie of the city. Maybe comparable to the people you find in the Upper West side. An older crowd, with a lot of money who have been living the neighborhood for a very long time. Because Chicago is so very young indeed, I believe the people of the neighborhood are not as rigidly defined as in other cities. As far as I can tell, the hoods have changed quite a big deal from the 60ies to the 80ies, and from then to now.
Next, it was time to say goodbye. I got to meet more friends from Cousin # 2, as we made a brief stint at a local bar in the ‘Burbs. Then it was time to drive back to O’hare airport, from which I had a sleepy flight back home and an awfully sleep-deprived time in New York the other day.

There is still so much to see in the City of High Winds. The Buckingham Fountain, for example. We had only briefly driven past it. The Water Tower. Other quaint neighborhoods the Cousin and the Girlfriend had the chance to experience the week before. I am glad I finally made it out there but I also realize that Chicago is always worth another trip. If not now then most likely in the summer. After all, those high-praised festivals and high-class music shows might always be worth checking out, don’t you think?