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Polaroid of the Week

Polaroid of the week: The devil roams the streets of Bocas del Toro

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Panamanians party hard! Carnaval is Panama’s biggest annual celebration, and while  it might not be as well known as Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it is one of the biggest carnivals in the world. For seven days, the streets around the country are flooded with parades and fantastic costumes. We hit Bocas del Toro for the carnival weekend and witnessed the seemingly painful custom of the ‘whipping devils’, in which devils chase through the streets and whip at the legs of people in the crowd. The devils represent the Spanish conquerors and the evils of the slavery.

 

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Polaroid of the week: Spider monkey in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

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One of the things we were most excited about for Costa Rica was the wildlife. Of all the countries in Central America, Costa Rica is where you can see the most mammals, birds and reptiles roaming freely through the forests.

So far, Manuel Antonio has been the best for monkey spotting! We spotted  this little guy on a quiet hike through a fairly deserted area of the national park. He had been involved in a playful ‘fight’ among five spider monkeys and was resting here (perhaps calculating his next move?)

There were plenty of other monkeys on the more populated paths – wowing the hordes of international tourists while joining raccoons in stealing food. Even outside the park, however, we managed to see monkeys, including one that hopped right down on the roof of our hostel, swinging on a chain right by where we were working.

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Polaroid of the week: A hidden book in Manhattan

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polaroid of the week usa new york city sculpture gardenLast week, I stumbled upon a hidden gem in New York City – I am sure I could add it to our list of  NYC places to discover that most visitor’s and local’s never go to! I finally made it to the magnificent Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side – the 4th largest Christian church in the world, by the way, and well worth a visit in itself! – when I saw a big bronze sculpture in the courtyard next to the church. The massive sculpture (40ft /12m high) turned out to be the Peace Fountain, a quite bizarre sculpture depicting a huge crab, the decapitated head of Satan and giraffes (among other things), which was built by artist Greg Wyatt in 1985.

Around the fountain there are several smaller bronze statues which range from animals to famous people such as Gandhi and Einstein to books, some of them halfway grown over by ivy and all showing scenes from fairytales or other well-known quotes. It felt like a little wonderland to me and there are so many little details to uncover! I already returned twice to take in more of the garden, but also to escape the busy street life of Amsterdam Avenue (off which I live) and to have a moment of peace and silence. It is a gorgeous little green oasis in Upper Manhattan and you might find me there several more times with a cup of coffee and a book while I am still in New York.

The Cathedral is located at the corner of West 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, if you’d like to check out this wonderfully weird garden for yourself.

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Polaroid of the week: Slave Street at Boone Hall Plantation

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polaroid of the week usa south carolina boone hall plantation slave shackAs we set off for our visit to Boone Hall Plantation outside of Charleston this week, there was an inner conflict on what to expect. On the one hand, we were both dreaming about the gorgeous Oak-tree filled grounds of the plantation where The Notebook and North and South were filmed. We imagined life on the plantation, sitting on the front porch of the grand house drinking ice tea or lemonade, gossiping about neighboring landowners and cooled by the South Carolina summer breeze.

However, not a moment passed without a deep sadness as we explored the plantation. The reality of life on a plantation for the majority of its inhabitants is just too hard to ignore. There were over 4 million slaves in the south by the mid 19th century, over 300 at Boone Hall alone. How could people have bought and sold other people and built wealth upon the profits of their labor? And what do we do today that, in 150 years, could be perceived with the same level of disbelief?

Here at Boone Hall, nine remaining brick slave cabins (the only left in the US) are lined along what is called Slave Street.  The plantation does an incredible job in each of the nine cabins to represent through still images, audio, life-size mannequins and film what the life and culture of slaves and later sharecroppers in South Carolina. Most interesting was learning all about Gullah culture, essentially the mega-mix of cultures and language among the African-American population of the Charleston area.

 

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Polaroid of the week: Honduran Cowboys

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Crossing from Guatemala into Honduras, the first thing we noticed is that we had left the Mayan culture behind. Immediately gone were the colorful indigenous trajes. The Honduran women dress fairly similar to women in the U.S. or Europe: jeans, heels, and tank tops or other pretty tops. Many of the men, however, wear a stereotypical cowboy outfit – leather cowboy boots, jeans, a fancy leather belt, button down shirt and of course the indispensable cowboy hat. Although some of the younger men and teenagers opt for a flashy modern style, both older and younger men are keeping the cowboy tradition alive and well and it is fun to watch the ‘boys gather in the town square in full cowboy gear. What makes it different to rural Texas is the long, very sharp machete hanging proudly by their sides. Still not used to that!

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Polaroid of the week: Sculpture overdose in New Jersey

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polaroid of the week usa new jersey grounds for sculptureThis week’s Polaroid is coming a little early since I’ll be sharing my upcoming travel plans and other happenings in my Life Lately post tomorrow.. so stay tuned for a long-winded post on where I’m off to next week and I why that was such a hard decision to make for me.

But before talking about leaving the U.S. : I had planned to return to the beaches of New Jersey all summer, after I was so pleasantly surprised by the beaches of Sandy Hook in June. Somehow, the summer flew by and there was barely any time left for an exploration of the Jersey Shore, until last weekend! But when I finally sat on the train to Jersey, bikini and sun tan lotion packed, it started to rain. My highly anticipated beach getaway got rained out. My friend came up with a Plan B quickly though, and decided to take me to Grounds For Sculpture, one of her favorite places in Jersey. I love public art and sculptures, so I wasn’t too bummed about missing the beaches that day (there’s always a next summer, right?) and once we arrived at the park, I might have even been happy about the cloudy skies and rainy weather: the sculpture park was so much more amazing than I had expected!

Grounds For Sculpture is a massive park of 42 acres / 170,000 m2 and home to more than 270 large contemporary sculptures, many of which are made by internationally renowned artists. All of the pieces are stunning, with a great mix of thought-provoking art, humorous sculptures and incredibly innovative work. I even reunited with the fabulous Seward Johnson ‘Forever Marilyn‘ sculpture that I had seen in Chicago in 2011 for the first time! I loved the amount of interactive sculptures that invite visitors to be part of the display – at least temporarily. We spent hours roaming the grounds, and could have easily spent longer, but we decided to head to the famed Rat’s Restaurant instead, which sits in a beautiful setting by a water lily-filled pond right on the grounds. If you ever find yourself in that area, I highly recommend stopping by Grounds For Sculpture.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Summer Night in Coney Island

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polaroid of the week usa new york coney islandAfter seven days of showing last week’s visitor around my beloved New York, I wanted to end her trip with something special before her return to Florida on Saturday. The summer fireworks in Coney Island seemed like a perfect send-of. Every Friday evening, the famous boardwalk around the iconic, old-fashioned Luna Park amusement park fills up with families, young couples, salsa dancers and break dancers, Russian grandmas from nearby Brighton Beach (a predominantly Russian neighborhood), candy cotton vendors and Manhattanites in need of a break from the ever so noisy concrete jungle.

The wide sand beach is perfect for tanning and relaxing or a game of beach volleyball, the boardwalk makes for great people watching, the pier offers vistas along the shore all the way to the Rockaways. As it gets dark, you can hear the screams of the young and reckless that dared to go on rides like the Cyclone or the Thunderbolt, the Russian chatter of the old ladies with their impeccable make-up, the seagulls loudly crying above you, and the savvy sales men yelling out their offers for cold  water or ice cream. But at 9.30pm, everyone stops what they are doing and gathers on the boardwalk to watch the sky light up from the fireworks. Not only the perfect ending to a scorching hot day, but the perfect celebration of summer.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Beach day on the Jersey Shore

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polaroid of the week usa new jersey sandy hook beach

It’s been months now that I went to a proper beach, and so I was happy to have a visitor in town this week – the perfect excuse for a day trip to the beach! My first instinct was to try a beach I hadn’t been to yet, and people kept recommending Jones Beach and Long Beach on Long Island, but in the end a ferry special for the Sea Streak to Sandy Hook won me over and I decided to return to the Jersey Shore.

I loved Sandy Hook: A blissful beach escape from New York City last year, and while I knew I would be limited this time around since I didn’t have bikes for all of us, I knew what to expect and that we’d have a decent beach – which is not easy to find around here, especially when you’re trying to impress someone who is used to Florida’s gorgeous beaches.

40 minutes after boarding the ferry near Wall Street we stepped onto the sandy shores of aptly named Sandy Hook – it doesn’t get much easier to get to a beach from NYC! – and an hour after leaving New York, we were already sunbathing. For my first beach getaway this summer, I couldn’t have chosen a better place, and I hope I’ll have time for another beach day before I leave for Europe.

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Polaroid of the week: Love lock madness in Cologne, Germany

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polaroid of the week germany cologne love locks bridgeIt feels like I’ve been all over the place this week: Berlin, then Dusseldorf, and now in Cologne, where I am spending the weekend. My three days in Cologne were definitely my favorite part of the week – my last two days in Berlin and also in Dusseldorf, it was mostly about work, but I tried to take some time off this weekend to find out if I still loved Cologne as much as I did fifteen years ago. Cologne and I have a special history: I visited the city for the first time with my girlfriends when I was 15 and was instantly mesmerized by the multi-cultural, vibrant city. What a difference from my sleepy hometown it was! I decided right there and then that I was going to move to Cologne one day, and a few more visits during my last couple of years in high school reaffirmed my love for the city, which is why I ended up enrolling in the University Of Cologne in 2000.

I had to leave unexpectedly after only two years, but always thought I’d come back one day – possibly to live there. But life had other plans for me and I never returned – until now, that is. As so many cities, Cologne has changed considerably since I lived here, and I had the best time this weekend rediscovering the place I called home all those years ago. With a good friend in tow and perfect summer weather, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time here – from food markets to bike rides along the Rhine River to a night out in Cologne’s thriving LGBT bar scene, I loved every second of it.

Being a sucker for love locks (and maybe even having locked my very own one on a famous bridge) one thing I was excited about was that I finally got to see one of the most famous love lock bridges in the world: the Hohenzollern Bridge. Back when I lived here, there were no love locks on that bridge, but a few years ago I came across an article mentioning that the bridge was covered in more than 40,000 love pad locks. After photographing the love lock fountain in Montevideo, the love locks on the Brooklyn Bridge (which have been removed now), love locks along Italy’s Via Dell’Amore, and many other spots around the world, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a bridge covered in padlocks to the extent this bridge is covered. It’s absolutely insane! Now that I’ve become a little more jaded rational when it comes to everlasting love and love declarations, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these couples were still together. There must be far more than 40,000 locks now – apparently, the love locks weigh over 2 tons! Let’s just hope they don’t cause the bridge to collapse like the love locks at the Pont Des Arts in Paris, where the locks have been removed consequently.

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Polaroid of the week: Returning to London

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polaroid of the week england london sunsetOn my way from New York to Sri Lanka, I stopped for a couple of days in London, the city I left in 2010 to travel the world. Back then, I would have never thought that it would take me nearly five years to return, because London has always been one of my favorite cites in the world. And even after traveling the world for nearly half a decade it remains one of the very few places I could see myself living in – in fact, there are only three cities in the world I’d consider settling down in: New York, London and Berlin.

Coming back after such a long time turned out to be a very emotional visit. I am not sure yet if I’ll write about it in more detail, but it caught me by surprise to be moved to tears by the view pictured above. I was nostalgic about rediscovering my favorite store brands, restaurant and coffee shop chains, and favorite foods. I was ecstatic to discover new things and that old habits were still in me (boarding the subway instinctively closest to the exit of the station, after many years of training to become as time efficient as possible), and that I’d forgotten quite a few things, including directions, which I still feel embarrassed about (I couldn’t remember the name of the street I lived on anymore, and still can’t!).

And like I said, it turned out that I had also forgotten how much I loved this city! When I made my way to the airport on a beautiful sunny autumn day I vowed that it wouldn’t be another 55 months until I return to London.

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