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Polaroid of the Week

Polaroid Of The Week: Quito’s Stunning Basílica del Voto Nacional

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week ecuador quito

I’m back in South America! And it strangely feels like I’ve never left, even though it’s been nearly eleven months since I said goodbye to Colombia. But considering I was in Mexico until mid-April and then again a whole month in November, it shouldn’t be too surprising that everything feels strangely familiar.

The Latin America traffic craze, the bustling markets and town squares, the noise (horns, speakers, megaphones), the street food vendors everywhere.

There were a few things though that made Quito, my first stop in Ecuador, feel different: 1) there are many women in traditional native dress, with long skirts and braids, hats and colorful shawls, which remind me a lot of the native dress in Bolivia.

And 2) The altitude! Quito is the second highest city in the world (only La Paz sits higher), and with an altitude of just over 9,200 feet I definitely felt the affects of it. I don’t think I’ve been to a place that high since traveling around Bolivia three years ago.

I’ll leave my thoughts on Quito for a separate article, but let’s just say I didn’t really connect with the city. That doesn’t mean I had a bad time here, but I didn’t see anything truly amazing and didn’t feel like I needed to spend more time here than the 4 days I had in Quito. I wandered the streets of the historic Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site), I visited several of Quito’s stunning churches including the Basilica of the National Vow, pictured, which is he largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. I went to the new part of town (where I had an amazing Ecuadorian hot cocoa!), I went to the city’s biggest park and roamed the central market, and while all of that was nice, it just didn’t feel very special. Maybe it was the chilly weather (temperatures in Quito are in the 60s year-round) and the fact that it rained every day (thankfully not all day), Quito just didn’t wow me. I will be back in Quito at some point to use it as a base while taking a couple of excursions (I am planning to take a mountain bike tour of Cotopaxi and to visit the famous Otavalo market) – maybe I’ll warm up to Ecuador’s capital then.

Next stop: The Galápagos Islands!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Snowy New York City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week USA New York City Brooklyn Bridge Park WinterAfter returning from Israel, I only had a few short days in Germany before I boarded a flight back to New York – just enough time to pack up my clothes and a few other belongings I wanted to bring to New York with me and hug my friends and family goodbye.

When I arrived in New York, I learned that I’d been lucky – had I flown a day later, I wouldn’t have made it to New York, because a massive blizzard hit the city, causing over 1,700 flights across all three airports to get canceled. That blizzard was the first real snowstorm I’ve ever witnessed! Yes, of course we get snow in Germany, but not like this. Seeing the city get covered in 10 inches (30 centimeters) of snow in the span of a few short hours was an incredible experience for me – I was amazed to see how quickly New York transformed into a winter wonderland. I watched the spectacle from the inside of a warm coffee shop while I was working and couldn’t resist taking a couple of walks through the snow, even though I decided NOT to bring my winter jacket with me to New York (I brought a vest because I figured it’d be enough for my last few days of winter). The novelty of the experience made me forget how cold it was and I adored the quietness of Manhattan in the snow – I don’t think I’ve ever seen New York that silent.

Yesterday, I woke up to bright blue skies and lots of sun, which made the winter storm the day before almost seem like a dream. Even though I am not the biggest fan of running in the snow I put my running clothes on and went for a jog along the East River. It was just too perfect of a winter day to not enjoy the views over Manhattan – another first for me, a winter run in New York.

This will be as much as I am getting of winter in New York – I am escaping the cold weather and won’t be returning until the spring! My next Polaroid will be coming to you from Ecuador, my first new country of 2017.

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Polaroid Of The Week: The Best View Over Tel Aviv

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week israel tel aviv viewsI spent the bigger part of the past week in Israel before returning to Berlin, where I was greeted with snow. It couldn’t have been a greater contrast: On Thursday, I went running in a tank top on the beach, and on Friday I went running across icy & snowy Tempelhof airfield.

After a couple of days in Jerusalem we took the bus to Tel Aviv and spent my final days in Israel in what is one of my favorite cities in the world. It was the perfect way to end my trip – after a few chilly days, the weather was sunny and warm, and we splurged on fancy hotel right by the beach, using a discount code for Hotels.com. We did all the things I love doing in Tel Aviv: morning runs along the beach promenade, strolls through Carmel market and Jaffa flea market, eating lots of sabich sandwiches (I fit in two visits to the legendary sabich sandwich place on the corner of Frishman and Dizengoff Str). Luckily we took advantage of Tel Aviv’s bike sharing system, which I discovered during my last visit, and cycled off some of the calories. We wandered the streets of Old Jaffa, the oldest port town in the world, and went to the hipster neighborhood Florentin to hunt down new street art. We also checked out a brand new indoor food market where I had the only drink of my trip – an Israeli microbrew. I couldn’t leave Israel without trying at least one new craft beer, and we’d gotten to Tel Aviv just in time to break my ‘Dryanuary’ alcohol detox.

I took the Polaroid from a viewpoint I go to every time I am in Tel Aviv: right when you enter Jaffa, which sits on the far southern end of the city, there is a viewpoint halfway up the hill that offers fantastic vistas over the coastline and Tel Aviv. And every time I visit, there are new cranes, building new skyscrapers, adding to the constantly changing skyline. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when I return to Israel.

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Polaroid Of The Week: A Spa Day At The Dead Sea

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week israel dead sea 2017This past week has been an absolute roller coaster of emotions: I got my passport back from the US consulate, with only two days to spare before my flight to Israel, and returned to Israel where I was reunited with one of my favorite people in the world. Sadly, it went downhill from there: first, the half-marathon I was supposed to run yesterday was canceled due to bad weather (heavy rain in the desert means flash floods), and I had trained so hard for this race in Germany’s arctic temperatures this month. And then there was Trump’s first anti-immigration action which caused this brand new immigrant to feel more anxiety than ever before. I’ll leave my full thoughts on that topic for my monthly round-up next week, but this and his other political actions definitely put a damper on my mood.

The plan for the rest of the day yesterday – post-race – was to spend the day at the Dead Sea, in which I floated during my first visit to Israel, and which was one of my favorite experiences in Israel, and to treat myself to a spa in one of the hotels on its shores, but since to get there, we’d have to take the same road that my race would’ve taken place on and which was closed because of flash floods, we had to change our plans.

Today, however, we woke up to beautiful blue skies and the sun was shining – the storm had finally moved on. So we decided to still have our spa day and headed to the desert and to the Dead Sea. It was just as stunning as I remembered it – in fact, driving down Highway 90 again made me think that it felt like yesterday that I’d last been here – and I even ended up braving the chilly 70°F (21°C) temperatures and jumped into the Dead Sea to float in the water again.

Our spa day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the road trip to the Dead Sea helped brighten my mood, even though the recent political happenings caused me sleepless nights and a tense feeling in my chest the entire week. I hope that my second week in Israel, which includes time in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, a city I love, will give my strength and my optimism back before I board a plane to New York in early February – the first time officially as an immigrant.

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Polaroid Of The Week: A life changing day in Frankfurt

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany frankfurt skyscrapersThe past couple of weeks have been absolutely frantic – I’ve been to Leipzig and Frankfurt and I am on my way to Berlin as I am writing this.

All of a sudden, my whole life is turned upside down! I can finally reveal the true reason why I went to Germany: I was invited for my final interview at the General Consulate of the United States in Frankfurt in order to get my permanent residency for the U.S.! This seemingly never-ending process has been going on for the past nine months and it is done now… at last. And I can finally talk about it – I’ve hinted about it here and there, and if you’re following me on Snapchat (mariposa2711) you’ve seen me go through the entire process, but I couldn’t talk about it publicly while I was still in the process of being screened and evaluated.

I have been trying to get permanent residency in the U.S. for years, and if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’ve been ready to get a permanent base again for about two years. But on the U.S. visa I’ve had until now, I had to leave the country, or New York, my chosen home, every six months, making it impossible to truly settle. I admit that in light of Friday’s inauguration I have mixed feeling about officially being an immigrant now, but I am so happy that this process, which has caused me sleepless nights since May, because it was not 100 % sure that I’d really get a permanent visa, is now over. I’ll be talking about it in more detail in my monthly round-up (and another post as soon as I am truly settled, but that is going to take a few more months), which coincided with the 7th anniversary of me canceling the last lease I had. 7 years of globetrotting.. who would’ve thought that when I signed that fateful letter telling my landlord I’d be leaving London.

My next Polaroid will be coming from Israel – I was reunited with my passport, which I had to leave at the consulate, just in time to catch my plane to Tel Aviv and to run the Dead Sea Half Marathon next Sunday!

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Polaroid Of The Week: A Winter Sunrise In Germany

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany winter 2017

This week has been all about spending time with my family and about getting in shape – because I got a pretty last-minute opportunity to run a half marathon in Israel later this month! I’ve briefly mentioned my upcoming trip in my December Life Lately round-up, and I was already super excited for my return to Israel, but this race will make it even better. The marathon route goes along the Dead Sea – one of my favorite places in Israel – so I didn’t have to think long, even though I am admittedly not in the best shape I’ve ever been.

I didn’t run a single time during my week in Berlin, and couldn’t motivate myself to go for a run when I visited my brother for a couple of days afterwards, but now that I am back at my sister’s house I’ve taken my her dog Odie on a daily 5k (even though he’d gladly do a daily 10k) and have run two 10ks. Having Odie is my biggest motivation to run every day – I have to admit that the freezing temperatures are a huge turn-off for me but I am fighting through my reluctance to head out in the snow. The toughest run so far was a sunrise run in 13 F (-10 C) – even though the run through the quiet, snowy fields was beautiful, I’ve never run in cold weather like this – I think the coldest run so far had been 26 F (-3 C). It’s quite ironic that I am training for a desert race in freezing cold winter weather, but what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right? 🙂

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Polaroid Of The Week: Happy New Year from Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany berlin TV Tower

Happy New Year from Berlin!

My first Polaroid of 2017 is coming to you from Germany’s capital where I escaped to after spending the Holidays with my family. While I came to Berlin mainly to get some work done and catch up with friends, I managed to fit in quite a few fun activities – like visiting several of the city’s amazing Christmas markets, which I hadn’t done in over ten years. I have to admit that it felt a bit awkward at first in light of the recent terror attack, but I decided to adapt the ‘We won’t let terrorists ruin this joyful time of year for us’ attitude that the Berliners showed, who kept flocking to the Christmas markets.

Other than Christmas markets, I went on a bar crawl in Kreuzberg and took a friend who passed through town to the observation deck of the Park Inn hotel for a panoramic view of Berlin, climbed the 285 steps of the spiral staircase to the top of the Victory Column and revisited the East Side Gallery, the longest still standing piece of the Berlin Wall which has been painted with murals by international artists. Note to self: Leave open air viewing platforms for summer visits to Berlin – the biting cold winter air up on top of both structures was brutal.

And of course I did all week long what I do best in Berlin: eat my way around town. I went to some of my favorite restaurants (Azzam for Lebanese, Anna Blume for cake, The Barn for coffee, Hamy Cafe for Vietnamese food) and tried some places I’d been wanting to eat at for a while, like the excellent Alsancak Simit Sarayi for a Turkish breakfast, Vagabund Brauerei for craft beer and Zweistrom to try their Makali (a Lebanese sandwich with fried carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, pickles & tahini sauce).

While I am still not a fan of the freezing temperatures in Berlin at this time of year and the fact that it gets dark at 4pm, it felt amazing to be back in one of my favorite cities in the world, even for such a short time, and ring in the New Year here. Bring it on, 2017!

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Polaroid Of The Week: The Insane Christmas Lights In Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city brooklyn dyker heights christmas lightsI couldn’t go home to Germany for Christmas without stopping in New York en route to Europe! I hadn’t been in my adopted home in months, was eager to catch up with friends, and, most importantly: enjoy the Holiday Season in New York, because everybody knows that Christmas in the Big Apple is magical. Last year, when I spent the entire month of December in New York, I had so many plans for my 1st NYC Holiday Season: go ice skating, visit the Christmas markets around the city, see the Christmas window displays on 5th Avenue, marvel at the legendary Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and see the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights. Well, somehow I didn’t manage to fit in everything on my list last year – I never went ice skating and I never made it down to Dyker Heights in the south of Brooklyn, which isn’t the easiest place to get to.

Even though I had less time than last year during my brief visit this month I was determined to make up for it, and not only did I go ice skating in Bryant Park (which was fabulous!), but I also went all the way to Dyker Heights to take in the elaborate Christmas lights there. I am not sure how it started, but there are a few blocks in a residential neighborhood there whose residents go completely bonkers with their Christmas light decorations. Now it has become so famous that bus loads of people arrive there every day (really, you can take a Dyker Heights Christmas lights bus tour!) to see this spectacle for themselves – apparently, more than 100,000 (!) people make their way to Dyker Heights every December! The lights been featured on the news, and every year, all sorts of publications run stories about these Christmas light displays.

Apparently, the residents who are participating in the Christmas light craze aim to make people feel the spirit of Christmas and have been doing so since the 1980s. Over the past few years though, since international media began reporting on this ‘phenomenon’, the lights have become crazier and crazier. As I was slowly walking up and down the streets that have the most intricate decorations, I couldn’t believe the extent of this annual tradition – the extravaganza was beyond my expectations and even though I think they are a little over-the-top, the Dyker Heights Christmas lights put a smile on my face and I know I’ll be back to see them again – hopefully next year.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

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Polaroid Of The Week: Fall Colors in Sonoma Wine Country, California

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa california sonoma wine country

One thing I loved about my trip to Sonoma Wine Country was seeing the vineyards during leaf changing season. I’d flown up from Los Angeles, the evergreen city with palm trees and summer weather even in December, and a short 90-minute flight later I found myself in fall weather again, just like in Seattle six weeks earlier. I’d never seen grapevines with changing leaves – I am not sure I even knew they were changing colors! – and loved the bright red and yellow colors in each winery I visited and every vineyard I passed in my car.

The wine tastings I did were fantastic, too – at the Korbel Winery for example, where I sampled California champagnes, or Virginia Dare Winery, recently purchased by Francis Ford Coppola. I got to tour the wineries and see the entire production line from wine making to corking and labeling the bottles which was incredible, got to sample wines that aren’t available anywhere but directly at the winery, and learned so much about wine in those few short days that I feel inclined to do some further studying now. I want to know more about the different kinds of grapes, the different kinds of wines, the differences between all of them. If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, I highly recommend a trip to Sonoma Wine Country… I can’t imagine you’d come back without having your curiosity  in wine piqued 😉

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Polaroid Of The Week: Being Dwarfed By California’s Redwood Trees

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa california armstrong redwoodsThis past week was one of the busiest travel weeks since returning from Italy in September – I admit it, I am exhausted. After a long weekend in L.A. (where I was amazed by the still oh-so sunny and warm weather!) I flew up to Santa Rosa in Sonoma Wine Country for a week of wine, art, good food and hiking.

One of the highlights of the week was an afternoon spent hiking in the Armstrong Redwoods. The Redwoods are home to the tallest trees in the world, which live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Walking through the forest where these imposing structures were towering over me, with moss-covered trunks of fallen trees on the ground, made me feel like I had entered some fairy tale world. I wouldn’t have been surprised had a fairy appeared in front of me, asking me to make a wish. Because of the height of the trees, barely any sun rays make their way through the branches, keeping the forest darker and in deeper shade than most other forests I’ve hiked through, which only added to the mystic aura.

The Armstrong Redwoods are supposed to remind visitors of what this whole region used to look like: Instead of  being covered in vineyards like it is today, all of Northern California used to be covered in forests of these colossal, majestic Redwood trees. The largest tree I encountered on my hike was the Parson Jones Tree, measuring more than 310 feet (94 meters) in height – longer than the length of a football field! Colonel Armstrong Tree, the oldest tree in the grove, is over 1,400 years old – these numbers were truly staggering and left me feeling even smaller and more humble than I already did in between these silent giants.

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