On Falling in Love (With London)

After spending two weeks out in the wild nature of Ireland, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to return to a busy metropolis such as London. The day before my overnight ferry I walked around Dublin with a friend, and the drizzle, traffic and noises aggravated me after the peaceful island quiet. And I was headed to an even bigger, busier city across the channel? How could this possibly go well? I wondered. But London is a must-see and I had to pass through anyways on my overland way to Germany, so onward ho.

I was lucky enough to have a family contact in London, who not only offered me a place to sleep and a key to her place, but who is just as obsessed with delicious noms as I am. Suffice it to say we got along quite well, if for no other reason than we both love stuffing our faces and talking about travel. Her intimate knowledge of London’s food scene and kindness set me up on the perfect foot to dive into London, despite my hesitations about being in such a big city.

This is what London angels leave you while they go to work.
This is what London angels leave you while they go to work.

And then the food, oh the food! One of the best things about big cities is the array of cuisines available in one place, and London surely didn’t disappoint. We ate Asian noodles and Spanish tortillas and Indian daal and sandwiches from Pret A Manger, a French health-food chain. I spent no more than three and a half days in London, but food-wise, it was well spent. Afternoon Tea and strawberry cake and other sweets here and there didn’t do much for my waistline, either, but I don’t regret one delicious bite. Mmm, allow me to wipe the drool off of my face as I continue.

On second thought, I'm not sure if I actually fell in love with London or just with clotted cream and macaroons...
On second thought, I’m not sure if I actually fell in love with London or just with clotted cream and macaroons…

The tourist sites were beautiful, as well. Huge churches, beautiful parks and elaborate costumes on the Queen’s guards were all sights to see. But of all the things to look at in London, there is one moment I remember clearly; it took my breath away. I was walking down the street and as I turned right onto Westminster Bridge, I was suddenly faced with the entirety of the House of Parliament across the river and Big Ben standing tall. To see such a gigantic, beautiful building come out of nowhere stunned me. Sometime while walking across that bridge is when I really fell in love with London and all of its charm. The Tower of London, while expensive, was worth the cost only because of the Beefeater tour, though the building itself is also lovely. Old buildings, tall as can be, lurked in corners at nearly every turn, somehow hidden by the city around it from other angles, much to my delight as I rounded corners throughout the city.

I'm just a huge, gorgeous building chilling on the riverside. No big deal.
I’m just a huge, gorgeous building chilling on the riverside. No big deal.

But one of the things that struck me most about London was how easy it was to travel. I’m not just talking about the language, though not having to navigate and read things in a foreign language was nice. I’m referencing the bus system, which was both efficient and not overly expensive. The Oyster cards that made everything easier and cheaper. The way the city was laid out, with multiple bridges to choose from when crossing the river, meaning no backtracking was necessary to get where I wanted to go. More than anything, though, were the beautiful maps everywhere. I even stopped carrying my own city map with me, which if you know me, is unheard of. (I always get lost.) I simply didn’t need it. Every few blocks stood a post with two maps: one close up and one farther away, so you knew not only exactly where you were and which direction you were facing, but what important landmarks were nearby and how to get there. I never worried about being lost, because if I needed to double check my location, I just checked one of the signposts within a few blocks of wherever I was and all was resolved.

It should be illegal not to have helpful maps everywhere in big cities.
It should be illegal not to have helpful maps everywhere in big cities. Seriously.

Genius, really. Maps. Useful public maps. Can every city get on board with this, now? (I’m looking at you Valencia, Spain!)

Between the relaxed feeling I had walking all over the city, the happy state my tummy was perpetually in, the lovely company I enjoyed while in London and the ancient beauty lurking in corners, I found London a hard city not to fall in love with. London is easy. London is beautiful. London is fun. Tell me, how could I not want to stay forever?

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Have you ever been to London? What did you think? Has anything ever caused you to fall in love with a city within days of arriving?

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Modern Meets Medieval in Halle an der Saale, Germany

Germany holds a very special place in my heart. Not only can I understand what’s going on for once, thanks to years of German instruction and a semester in Austria, but the things that are going on usually make sense. There’s masterful public transportation. I have more than a few friends scattered all of the country. To top it all off, there’s little to no crime, so arriving in Germany is not just exciting (dark beer! curry wurst!) but, sigh, comfortable.

And now, my parents are moving there.

Yes, my expat-ness has officially rubbed off onto my poor, unsuspecting parents and my dad has accepted a job transfer to a plant in Germany. And he’s dragged his suitcases across the ocean and is squatting in a hotel at the moment in the small little town of Halle and der Saale, a short drive away from Leipzig, where I had a happy reunion with my Finnish friend Pinja less than a year ago. He’s begun work, my mom is wrapping up life in Pittsburgh, and then in April, she’ll complete her own leg of the journey to Halle an der Saale and they’ll set up house in a house. Coincidentally, I’ll also be headed to Germany at the same time… oh wait. That’s not a coincidence. It’s just my excellent planning, muahaha.

Anyhow, I am running away from the point of this post. I visited Halle for a few days before my flight to Barcelona, Spain, and was surprisingly quite… impressed. Not only was the city small, quaint and full of history, but it had done an excellent job of not just preserving that history, but giving it a new usefulness and function in the modern world. Now, I’ve not been to many small towns in Germany (maybe Lübeck counts?) so I can’t speak for all, though I wouldn’t be surprised in Halle an der Saale wasn’t the only little city to do such a phenomenal job of balancing history with today’s world. But I can only talk about what I know. These are my favorite ways Halle an der Saale brings its past into the present (and who knows what else I’ll discover, come April!).

Moritzburg Castle & Saxony-Anhalt’s Art Museum

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If you’ve ever been to Halle an der Saale, this is probably the building you knew I was going to bring up. Because it’s great. This castle was built in the fifteenth century and as most castle stories go, people were fighting over dumb things and actually important things got burned. Like beautiful, giant castles. Anyways, after years of deteriorating, finally the city of Halle was given rights to the property and after that whole DDR situation was dealt with, a gorgeous and modern art museum was created. Now, instead of recreating the castle walls, though, Halle an der Salle decided to stabilize what ruins there were, preserve them, and then built a sleek metal/glass building within the walls. It looks like this museum literally rises from the ashes, if you will.

Dramatic effect, indeed. Well played, Halle.

Market Church of Saint Mary (Marienkirche)

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This church sits right in the main plaza of the city and is pretty iconic, for good reason. Not only does Halle an der Saale incorporate their history into today, but they’ve even got a history of incorporating history, as seen with Marienkirche. Why do you think this church has 4 towers? Nope, it’s not because the architects were weird. (Though maybe they were, who can say?) It’s because some important Catholic Germans wanted to build a giant church to impress all of the townspeople and make sure they didn’t join the Reformation. But instead of tearing the two existing churches completely down, they left the towers in place and connected them with the new nave (fancy speak for the middle part of a church).

(Also, a bit of historical irony, it was within this partially-built church that some important German dude gave a speech and converted the congregation to Protestantism, the exact thing the construction of the fancy church was supposed to ward off. Ouch. See Wikipedia for more drama.)

But that’s not the only way the Market Church of Saint Mary has fought off being dated. These days, instead of closing off the tower stairs and declaring them unfit for traversing, the city of Halle installed new, metal, spiral staircases in both front towers, maintains the top bridge/platforms and leads tours up, across and back down, twice a day. How do I know that, you ask? Because out of sheer luck, I found myself in the right place at the right time and joined the tour group, stepped up those steep metal stairs, visited the indoor platforms and walked across the hanging bridge, hundreds of feet above ground. How often do you get to do that in towers dating from the 1500s? (On second thought, maybe that’s not on your to-do list…)

The Francke Foundation Homes

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In 1695, a German guy (Can you guess his last name?) decided to set up an orphanage and religious school for poor kids and anyone else who wanted to attend classes or live there. It was a huge success and expanded into an entire complex (teacher training, a pharmacy, library, etc.), all with matching white buildings in a row. Until the dumb WWII bombings and later DDR situation, things were going well and the place was huge. Nowadays, they’ve rebuilt and repaired the damage and started up all of the social programs again. Big-whoopty-do, right? But that’s not the entire reason I was so impressed with this old complex

No, the real kicker is that the library holds books that are hundreds of years old, in a building built completely out of the original materials: nails, floorboards, bookshelves and all. It’s fully functional, beautifully done and you’re allowed to walk into the first section of the room and touch a couple books. And then, they’ve digitally scanned a ton of the super old books so that you can look at the books online. Not only is that modern, but it contributes to the book’s preservation in the long run and it’s just super cool.

The Main Square

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Alright, so this one isn’t really so unique, but I still love how Halle’s modern transportation, street cars, go right through the historical center square. Berlin also has a trolley hub right in one of its historical centers, and I’m sure there are plenty of other cities that qualify on the same account. But there’s just something about seeing that bright red street car pull up in front of a 15th century clock tower (or in this picture’s case, a 16th century church) and let off a bunch of Germans, some of whom have their face in an iPhone. I adore it.

There are a couple more honorable mentions, here:

  • The Handel Museum is built inside of the house George Handel (a famous composer) was born in.
  • A square of apartments are being put into renovated 15th-18th century buildings with a courtyard.
  • The Giebichenstein Castle also houses a museum and University, though I’ve never seen it myself (parts of it are closed in winter so I didn’t make it up there).

I only had a few days in Halle an der Saale, but it was quite a lovely time. If you’re ever in the area, it would certainly not be a waste of time! And say hello to my parents, too, while you’re there.

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What do you think of Halle an der Salle, Germany? Which modern/medieval mash up was your favorite?

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Photoessay: Picture Perfect Pittsburgh

One of my goals while at home this past month was to really soak up Pittsburgh and everything it has to offer. Couple that with my budding passion for photography, and it was only a matter of time until I picked up my camera and tried to capture what I see as an iconic city. First as a steel and industrial city, and more recently as a revived and historical city, yet ripe with everything hipster and grassroot-y. Over the past week, the weather has finally cleared up enough to snap some shots and I have to say, I love some of the photographs I’ve taken of Pittsburgh. I feel as though I’ve done a pretty decent job of capturing what it is that I adore about this town.

If you haven’t already, take a minute to meet Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: home of obsessive sports fans, a lot of movie sets and almost Hilary Duff but in the end, not.

One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills.

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See the river up there? It was completely frozen over, from shore to shore. Talk about cold weather!

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Next up, the photos with a flare of drama. AKA, me playing around with my camera settings and not being consistent. Whoopsies.

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Not pictured: incredible ethnic restaurants galore, the man hollering at my sweet leather Converse while I walk down the street, honking river geese, river geese poop (watch your step on those river trails!), awesome biking culture and the sweet Pittsburghese accent that many Yinzers (Pittsburgh natives) wear with pride.

Oh and the negative a million degree weather isn’t pictured well, either. But that’s made better by all the hipster coffee shops and their in-house-roasted beans that I transform into delicious, aromatic medicine that warms me up once I head back inside.

No, it’s not so bad, after all. Despite the weather, it’s good to be home.squiggle3

Like what you see? You can find more pictures of frozen Pittsburgh on Laura of Eclectic Travel Girl’s blog, some very similar, probably because we were walking together while we took them…

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Featured Photograph: White on Water

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Hamburg was a pretty city, partially thanks to all of the waterways and ports throughout the city. In the Innenalster, or inner port, buildings are built directly next to the waterway, so close that people on top of boats could have climbed right onto a sidewalk if they had wanted to. This building’s bright white facade impressed me, especially placed next to the dark port water. You know how I love a good contrast, right?

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13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best

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When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.

And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.

1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore

So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.

2// Riversides Galore

Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.

3// Market Square & PPG Plaza

Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!

Awesome, I tell you.
Awesome, I tell you.

4// It’s Bikeable

There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)

5// Kennywood

Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.

The swings are from the 80s and they're STILL fun.
The swings are from the 80s and they’re STILL fun.

6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback

So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.

7// The T

If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.

8// It’s Kind Of Hipster

Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.

Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.
Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.

9// Primanti Brothers

Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.

10// The Southside

The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.

[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]

Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.
Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.

11// The View From Mount Washington

If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.

12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares

Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.

13// Green Things

Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?

The Phipps Conservatory has a "green" visitors center, too!
The Phipps Conservatory has a “green” visitors center, too!

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Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?

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Snapshots of Istanbul

Last January, 2013, my mom and I headed to Istanbul from our respective corners of the globe. We had planned a short, joint vacation of only 11 days. When I came back, I was overwhelmed with all that I’d seen and done and managed to publish very little about our time there. The city was beautiful, fascinating, busy with quiet corners and full of surprises. I didn’t do it justice. This is my attempt to remedy that situation.

Because it’s been more than 10 months since that trip, my memories are a little… unfresh, shall we say? But that’s what pictures are for. Instead of piecing together fragments of memories and filling the holes with untruths, I’ve put together a series of pictures that best captures what the vacation was like for us. Below the photographs, I’ve written little descriptions and context. While it’s not a linear story per say, hopefully these snapshots of our vacation can still paint a picture, sporadic as it may be.

What better way to begin than with the famous Blue Mosque? One of the more spectacular mosques in Istanbul, it’s also on the top of every visitor’s list, day 1, first thing. But it’s only one of many; mosques are everywhere and many of them are unbelievably beautiful, even the buildings meant simply for the neighborhood. The call to prayer rings out several times a day, throughout the city, and became more of a lullaby for me than anything else.

[Related Post: Featured Photograph: One More Mosque]

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Anytime I visit a country, I make it top priority to find an outdoor market, if possible. Markets are busy and loud, so it’s difficult to speak to whoever you’re with and you find yourself in a strange, singular bubble of quiet inside the chaos. The things they sell are endlessly fascinating and are a real snapshot into the soul of the country. Olives are a big deal in Turkey, the climate is ideal for variety and quality. (Yes, I was coerced into tasting an olive, because maybe I just don’t like “bad” olives, but it turns out that I’m just not a fan. Sad day.) Fishing is also a predictable staple, considering the heart of Istanbul are the rivers that surround the three distinct “continents”.

[Thanks to Salih from My Local Guide Istanbul for bringing my mom and me through this particular market.]


The outdoor food markets are wonderful, but the outdoor goods markets, or bazaars are even more wonderful. If I was much of a “shopper”, I would have emptied my wallet right about here. The little avenues with lines of shops are all over the main parts of the city; I’m not sure about more residential areas, time was unfortunately short.

[Related Post: Master Pottery]

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You also can’t talk about Istanbul or bazaars without talking about THE Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar her royal self. ‘Nuff said. Also, my iPhone photos from this particular visit were total crap, apologies.

[Unrelated Post: An Accidental Visit to the Prince’s Islands]

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I love stepping outside of the big city and flashing lights to see what everyday life is all about in a country. (Or “off the beaten path”, SEO BOOST!) Our tour guide, Salih, took us to these winding roads in a neighborhood several miles outside of the city center, Eyüp. It was one of the best parts of the trip, because the neighborhood is especially rife with contrasts, one of my favorite things. Crumbling homes stood directly next to recently remodeled places, painted bright colors and returned to glory. The neighborhood was originally home to wealthy Jewish families who were punished by a population exchange with Greece in the 1920s and had to abandon their homes. Hence, the Greek people who moved in created this all-in-Greek-curriculum school, which holds elementary, middle and high school students in one building. As one would expect, after so many years, enrollment has dwindled.

[Related Post: iPhone Photoessay: The Cats of Istanbul]

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Baklava. Once again, need I say more? No? Great.

I also need to say sorry for never taking a decent picture of the classic Turkish tea. I have a picture of my mom drinking tea, but I’m pretty sure I would be murdered if it made its way onto this blog. Tea is everywhere, delicious, and you can’t eat baklava without it or you are breaking rules and the higher order will punish you in due time.

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Last but not least, here’s a crooked photograph of me giving my mom a noogie in front of a historical monument, the Hippodrome of Constantinople built in AD 203 by the Emperor Septimius Severus.

Teşekkür ederim for the memories, Istanbul.

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Not Falling in Love with Munich

When I mentioned to friends that I’d be going to Germany for vacation, there was an overwhelming cry of “Go to Munich! Go see Southern Germany!” I’d technically already been to Munich twice when I was 17. One trip was spent entirely in my bed, sick with a throat infection that would eventually land me in the hospital for 5 days. The second trip was with my Austrian Gymnasium (high school). I don’t remember much about Munich from that second trip, not because I was black out drunk the entire time, but because my teenage self was simply fixated on my friends and the available alcohol for consumption. So this time around, I vowed to do Munich right.

First things first, I Facebook messaged an old, old friend who lives nearby and asked if she would be free to meet up. I also decided on one of the free walking tours with Sandman’s New Europe, since I’d only be in Munich for a short time, less than two days. Before I knew it, it was July and I was on a train headed for Munich, excited. I found my hostel without issue, checked in and then headed out to meet Jess.

I got off the street car about 5 minutes away from our meeting place and enjoyed a slow meander through a wooded sidewalk. To my left, through the trees, I could see the Isar River and plenty of Germans enjoying the cold water on an otherwise hot day. It was a classic German scene; people from an otherwise busy city finding a quiet place to go swimming and relax outside. To my right zipped cycler after cycler on the bike path, another typically German thing to see. Germans love their bicycles.

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Jess and I found each other, exclaimed how crazy it was to see one another again after more than five years, and started out with a beer while we waited for her boyfriend to meet us. We talked over her life since moving to Germany, my life

since moving to South Korea, work, family and all of the in betweens. It was really wonderful to catch up with yet another old friend and I had a great time. Her boyfriend arrived, we had some lively conversation and enjoyed the weather outside. I tried a typical summer drink that’s called the Hugo, which according to the Internet actually stems from Italy.

We went for dinner in a traditional Bavarian restaurant, a beer garden. Sitting outside, awash with the laughter of Munich residents and the clinking of their glasses was beautiful. The walls covered in ivy, the ground paved with stone, we were in a tiny oasis of nature in the middle of a big, bustling city. And I was eating one of the most delicious Sauerbraten I’ve ever eaten with my favorite drink, a wheat beer. I was in heaven.

Afterwards, we took a stroll and grabbed a beer to go, so we could relax in one of the central parks in Munich. It was beyond crowded: groups of friends took up nearly every available inch of grass in the small, round park and their laughter filled the air. I was inside of Munich, I was in the heartbeat of young Germans and taking part in their outdoor, evening drinking with friends. Exactly how I seek to see every city I visit.

The next day, I began by seeking out the traditional white sausage and a pretzel breakfast.

Yes, I ate this in the morning and enjoyed it.
Yes, I ate this in the morning and enjoyed it.

Later I enjoyed a morning stroll along a different, more historic part of the Isar River and took pictures of towering buildings the the statues keeping them company. For lunch, I bought some fruit from one of the market stalls in one of the busy city market areas and sat myself down with a big beer in a public beer garden. I ended up having a fun conversation with some country Bavarians in town for a work trip. I didn’t have nearly as difficult a time understanding their accent as I’d anticipated; it must be my Austrian upbringing. They even used one of my favorite Austrian dialect words: Mädls.

The walking tour began with breathtaking buildings in Marienplatz. The New City Hall, an old cannonball left in a church wall, a short history lesson and the most expensive shopping street in Munich were on the list. The Hofbräuhaus and its history and a great tour guide named Severin who wasn’t afraid to get a little crazy. I learned a lot, I saw a lot. I took a lot of photographs.

Our tour guide, Severin, getting a little weird. He was awesome.
Our tour guide, Severin, getting a little weird. He was awesome.

But when I boarded my train later in the day to meet Claudia in Berlin, I wasn’t sad. For some reason, despite doing only amazing things, seeing so much beauty and life and drinking my favorite beer multiple times, I wasn’t upset leaving Munich behind. Maybe it was the general unfriendliness of Munich city people, but I’d met very friendly country Bavarians and spent time with friends while I was there. Maybe it was my wallet crying every time I bought something for twice the price in the rest of Germany, but I’d hardly been a big spender while I was there, buying market fruit for lunch and taking a free walking tour. Maybe Munich is just one of those cities that has to grow on you, maybe two days was too short, maybe you can’t fall in love with Munich, but slowly learn to love it. I don’t know the answers. I only know that I did everything that should have made me love Munich, had nothing but fun and good experiences, and yet I still didn’t feel like I needed to come back. Maybe Munich just isn’t my place.

Unless, of course, I think about eating Sauerbraten again. For Sauerbraten, I would cross oceans and hike mountains and steal candy from children. For Sauerbraten, I could learn to love Munich someday.

I will never, ever not want to eat this. Source.
I will never, ever not want to eat this. Source.

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Photoessay: Saturday in Namdaemun, Seoul

I don’t go to Seoul very often, if I can help it. As much fun as the big city can be, it also drains my wallet to spend a day or two there. Bus tickets, lunch, dinner, snacks, water, fresh juice, street food… and that’s not even including the shopping that’s hard to resist. This Saturday, though, I had errands to run and only Seoul could help me. They were the best kind of errands, I suppose, being stuff I had to buy for my students. But I still hate spending money, even on stuff I like. (Am I crazy? Maybe.)

So, shopping list in hand, I set out to buy a myriad of junk at the Namdaemun market: socks, keychains, t-shirts, etc. The market is as big as it is diverse; clothing, shoe stores, food stalls, accessories, purses… you name it and it’s there. There are usually a sick amount of people, but thankfully it was pretty drizzly and the streets were simply crowded, not packed. I took some pictures to give me something to enjoy while shelling out my hard-earned cash. By the time I got home sweet home I was exhausted, but my backpack was full and my shopping list complete. As for next weekend… rest.

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iPhone Photoessay: Cats of Istanbul

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Istanbul is huge: it covers three separate land masses and is filled with a seriously diverse bunch of people. Each neighborhood has a distinct feel and you could easily stay for a lifetime and keep it interesting. But there’s one thing that all areas have in common: street cats. A lot of them.

They are well fed by restaurant and store owners that set out food and take care of them. Many are friendly. Most just want to sit near the heat lamps you have set up near your table and eat the scraps that fall off your plate. Some are particularly adorable and many can be found in the most surprising of places. Enjoy the photographs.

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Review: My Local Guide Istanbul Tours

Big city, short vacation: a tour guide was the perfect answer.
Big city, short vacation: a tour guide was the perfect answer.

Istanbul is one of those huge cities with both way too many things to see and longer distances to navigate to get there. Because my mom and I had a short time in Istanbul, only five full days (we traveled to Cyprus as well), I suggested that we look into a tour that covered some of the most famous sites in a shorter amount of time, right at the beginning of our trip. The idea was that we’d see the must-sees and wouldn’t waste any time getting lost on the way there, and in the process get ourselves somewhat oriented to getting around the city. So I did a little blog research and came across My Local Guide Istanbul, also known as Salih.

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