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Polaroid of the Week

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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Polaroid Of The Week: The Lush Mountains Of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico puerto vallartaTo be completely honest: I didn’t want to spend my last few days in Mexico in Puerto Vallarta. I wanted to stay in San Pancho or in Sayulita, which are both smaller beach towns north of Puerto Vallarta, and where I had spent my birthday. But because the season was just about to start in San Pancho most cafes were still opening at unreliable hours (if it all), and I needed wifi to get work done. In Sayulita, there were a few places I knew I could work at (with okay wifi, but still not great speeds) but struggled to find decent accommodation. Since I had several deadlines looming over me, I decided to do what seemed the most reasonable: to return to Puerto Vallarta, which I knew had a much bigger selection of available accommodation and great wifi. As much as I loved the vibe in the smaller beach towns, sometimes the digital nomad has to put work first, especially after a slow month in November.

And after a couple of days back in Puerto Vallarta I realized how much I actually liked the town that had seemed like a big resort town at first. Yes, there are casinos, golf clubs and cruise ships. Yes, there are giant all-inclusive resorts. But there’s also the Old Town, the Zona Romantica, with cobblestone streets, with ornate churches and bright pink bougainvillea trees that form a perfect contrast to the whitewashed colonial houses. And then there’s the dramatic backdrop: the lush green jungle-covered mountains that hug the Bahía de Banderas, the bay alongside which Puerto Vallarta stretches. I loved my morning runs on the Malecon, the wide promenade, which is lined with stunning bronze sculptures, and my explorations of the neighborhoods up in the hills, which offer jawdroppingly beautiful views over the city and the bay. I loved the variety of cafes and restaurants and gay bars (albeit almost all of them being heavily men-focused) and even a microbrewery, and that on Playa de los Muertos, the southernmost beach of Puerto Vallarta, you can dine right in the sand.

While Sayulita and San Pancho were smaller and more laid-back and I could still find completely deserted beaches there, I came to appreciate Puerto Vallarta in the end and boarded my flight knowing that I’d be back one day.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Sunset and surfers in San Pancho, Mexico

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico 2016 san pancho mexicoThe last few days in Guadalajara were rainy, grey and cold. I had planned to stay there longer, but the weather made me change my plans. Instead of spending more time inland, I’d head straight to the coast. My first stop would be Sayulita, a small surfer town on the Pacific, and then I would visit San Pancho, a few miles further north, even smaller than the already tiny Sayulita, but a few of my friends had spent a winter there a few years back and loved it.

I couldn’t have made a better decision than traveling to the coast. I started my journey on a rainy morning in Guadalajara (it was pouring down the second day in a row) and a couple of hours into the bus ride, the rain stopped and the scenery began to look a lot more tropical. Four hours after hopping on that bus, I was let out on the side of the road right next to a guy selling coconuts fresh off a palm tree. The air felt sticky and hot. This was the climate I felt right at home in.

I’ve been enjoying beach life in both Sayulita and San Pancho since I got here: Watching the surfers, taking in the spectacular sunsets every day with a beer or two, taking a quick dip in the ocean when it gets too hot. I went on jungle hikes, on sweaty runs along the coast, I sipped fresh coconuts and ate too many tacos. I almost feel as if I was on vacation, even though I am spending way too many hours behind the screen of my laptop – but I don’t mind it. Knowing that I’ll get to recharge my batteries on the beach after work is all I need to make me happy right now.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Agave Fields In Tequila, Mexico

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico tequila jaliscoWhen I mapped out my Mexico trip and tried to decide which city to fly into, it basically came down to one decision: Flying straight to the coast or visit a new city first. And as much as I was ready for some beach time, my curiosity to explore another Mexican city won. And Guadalajara won for three reasons: It is known to be cultural and artsy, it is relatively close to the Pacific coast, and it is only 70 kilometers from Tequila. A travel writer I follow on Snapchat had just gone there and her snaps from Tequila looked so gorgeous that I wanted to see the agave fields for myself, and visit a couple of tequila distilleries – even though I am not a big tequila fan (I have a margarita every now and again, but straight up tequila wouldn’t necessarily be my drink of choice).

And so I found myself on a bus to Tequila on my very last day in Guadalajara, excited for agave fields and for an education about Mexico’s national spirit, one that, admittedly, I knew very little about. While the day trip didn’t exactly turn on the way I was hoping for (rain instead of blue skies, too many hours spent on a bus, bad planning), I immediately fell in love with the little village of Tequila. I could feel that we weren’t far anymore when agave fields started to line the street on both sides, with their distinctive green-bluish leaves.

The village itself is one of Mexico’s fifty or so Pueblos Magicos, Magic Villages – a title that Tequila well deserves. Colorful colonial houses, cobble stone streets, colonial churches, and tree-lined plazas where street vendors try to tempt you with fresh roasted corn or with ice cream. I instantly wished I would have come for longer than a few hours on a day trip. The highlight was, of course, visiting a tequila distillery, where we were shown the entire process of tequila making. Starting with the big piles of the piñas, the agaves’ round centers, which are thrown on a conveyor belt – the first step of the actual tequila production. We got to see the milling and fermentation, the distillation and finally the bottling. And of course we were not leaving before everyone had tasted the different kinds of tequila produced here: Blanco (bottled immediately upon distillation), Reposado (aged for at least two months), Añejo (aged for at least a year, but less than three) and Extra Añejo (over-aged).

As I said: the day trip to Tequila could’ve been planned better, but yet: I am so glad I went. In fact, it made me add a road trip following Jalisco’s entire Tequila Trail to my travel wish list.

P.S. You can follow my journey in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Polaroid Of The Week: Guadalajara, Mexico’s Second City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico guadalajaraWhen it rains, it pours, they say, and that couldn’t hold truer for the past couple of weeks. And I don’t only mean that because it is pouring as I type this – I haven’t seen that much rain since leaving Seattle, but Guadalajara got so much rain today that the streets were flooding – but, as so many of us, I’ve been struggling with the events of this week. That combined with a string of bad news since the beginning of the month has put me in a slump which I’m trying to get out of.

Coming to Mexico was certainly a good decision and is helping me getting my mojo back: As soon as I walked out of the terminal building last week and saw the familiar OXXO convenience store across the street, I felt like I was coming home. And there aren’t many places that make me feel this way. The familiarity of Mexico has also helped me ease into solo travel again, which I haven’t done in a while now, and the weather has been perfect for most of the week – after my depressingly wet and cold October this was much needed.

Guadalajara, which I picked as the starting point for my current Mexico trip, was an excellent choice. I’d never been to Mexico’s second largest city, and it was time to fix that. The city reminds me a lot of Mexico City, which I love, has plenty of awesome street art, beautiful colonial buildings and tree-lined plazas that invite to linger. There is a fantastic art scene here, and I’ve been trying to take as much of it in as possible. The highlight was the Art Museum of the University with a giant, stunning Orozco wall mural and mural covering the interior of the auditorium dome. I felt like it was just yesterday that I marveled at his murals in Mexico City and visited Frida’s Casa Azul for the second time.

I apologize for the lack of content here, but I’ll get back to regular posting as soon as I’m back at 100%. I’ve got a bunch of posts from all over the place for you: Seattle, Mexico, Colombia and Italy!

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