The Home Chapters #1 – Cologne

I am sinfully late with this entry. I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks but then things kept piling up and I forgot and by now it’s so bad I actually have a list of things I meant to post on the blog.

As I mentioned time and time again, I love to travel. But I don’t have the funds to do as much of it as I would like, so it usually comes down to one or two bigger trips and several roadtrips within my immediate reach, usually without staying over night. When it comes to travel, my main passion are places by the sea. I love beaches, waterfronts, waves… Most people don’t consider it a holiday unless they’ve been to the beach, in the mountains or living it up in a metropole. So at first sight, Duisburg and the area around it aren’t really attractive. But if you give it a closer look, there are a lot of small – and sometimes even big – things to see and do around here, too.

I’ve never been much of a patriot but after 32 years of living here, I figured it’s only right that there’s a little corner of this blog dedicated to ‘home’. I’m not gonna be too strict here. The articles don’t have to be about Duisburg, in the immediate neighborhood or even the same state. As long as it can be reached and visited during a day trip, it’s considered ‘close enough’.

That’s why the first part is about Cologne. It just happened to be the first place I visited after I had the idea for this, so why not start there.

My history with Cologne is long but not very exciting at all. Mostly, I’ve been visiting it for concerts and other events. It’s where all the big media is located in this part of Germany, so most artists have at least one stop there during a tour. Occasionally, I also made it to the town center for shopping or dinners with friends and for one nice but incredibly stressful month, I even had a job there. It was the most fun job I ever had but it also required about two hours of commute back and forth every day – and that was when the trains were on time. And it happened to be February. Everyone who’s ever experienced the German carnival in the Rheinland area knows how crazy Cologne gets in February.

Despite these on and off visits, I had never been inside of the cathedral. It’s impossible not to see it from the outside because it’s huge and smack in the middle of everything, and yet I had never really paid it much attention. So one fine day, just a few days after my return from Mallorca, I grabbed Mel and we drove out to Cologne for some mini-sightseeing and a sprinkle of shopping on the side.

Another thing I knew about but had never really visited was the Rheinufer. Being from Duisburg and close to the Rhine myself, going close to the river in other locations seems anticlimactic, but in Cologne, it’s usually a lot nicer than most other places. There are a lot of cute old houses along the shore, some still with their historical decorations and markings. I particularly loved the narrow brown one.

The little church here is Groß St. Martin, by the way, a rather small Benedictine church. I don’t know if I’d like it as much if it was placed elsewhere, but right there, near the Rhine and next to the other historical buildings, it fits in quite perfectly. Especially against the blue early-summer sky, of course.

As we walked on, we come to the stairs leading up to the cathedral itself and found we weren’t actually allowed to walk across the surface on top of the stairs. To my amazement, Mel explained that this happened quite often while the Cologne Philharmonics are rehearsing in the venue underneath. Apparently, the construction wasn’t so well thought through, and the sound of people’s steps on the surface disturbs the musicians. Instead of investing in more works to fix this, they just put up signs and have security people preventing people from walking across the surface during rehearsals. Probably not a very efficient solution, but makes for funny tourist anecdotes anyway.

We walked around the cathedral from the outside and saw a few of the constant works that are being done on and around the building. They started building it in 1248 but as it is with buildings of this scale, it’s never really finished and work never stops. Mel pointed out a few spots where you can see new or renovated parts but to be honest, I wouldn’t really notice it unless you bring them to my attention.

I’ve mentioned it a couple times, I’m not religious. But stepping into a huge and impressive building like the Cologne Cathedral, I always almost regret that. I can’t bring myself to believe in any deity or follow the rules of any organized religion but the sheer size of it, the sometimes eery lights, the echoes of hushed voices, the praying people that are seated in the pews…it makes me wish that I could find some kind of hope in it, too. Alas, I have to be satisfied with the feeling of wild awe when visiting these places.

We toured the huge space inside of the cathedral with all its many windows and altars and when we emerged, we decided it was selfie time – just us and the cathedral. Thanks to the rough breeze that day, it turned out to be a rather dopey one, though.

The rest of the day was fun but far less tourist-y. We did some shopping, got lost inside the biggest Primark I’ve ever seen and had a delicious, carb-heavy dinner at Pizza Hut. And I also spotted another thing I’d somehow never noticed before – Ice Cream, anyone?

If you’re ever gonna visit Cologne by car, though, I don’t recommend the underground parking at Heumarkt. Unless 18 Euros for 4-5 hours seems like a bargain to you.

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Seven Sweet Days in Mallorca

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea.

– Isak Dinesen

Another year, another holiday. And this year, it actually happened, unlike last year’s trip to Vienna that had to be cancelled for health reasons. Although this year came dangerously close to the same when my mom came down with another one of her dramatically mysterious fits of bad health. Her doctor meant to write her off sick again but then things took a turn for the better and we flew anyway. Which was only a semi-good idea – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

This trip took us to Mallorca, again – and to that sweet little hotel in Portocolom, again.

We were facing a ridiculously early 6:30 flight and as usual, I vowed to go to bed early, sleep a few hours, then get up in the middle of the night. Well, that didn’t work out so well and I had to make do with a meagre three hours of sleep before I had to drive us to the airport. Luckily, good things like holidays make it easy to be excited and bubbly anyway. It puzzled me to find that everything was open at five in the morning because for our flight to London in January, we’d found the whole airport asleep and that had been an hour later. So, I could have splurged with proper breakfast but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat before getting on a plane, and so I stuck to a bottle of water as usual.

The thing with Mallorca is, the island I’ve come to see and love has nothing to do with its reputation. That reputation comes from exactly two locations, El Arenal and Magaluf. I’ve never been to either but when you’re flying there, you’re bound to share the plane with a bunch of people who are going there for a few days of party and drinking. And when we were flying, it was two days before Father’s Day, a time which a lot of people use for a short trip to Mallorca and engage in heavy partying. So when it was time for boarding, we stood behind a group of young men, each equipped with a sixpack (and not the good kind) and weird attire suggesting what exactly was in store for them. While we waited, the already opened the first cans and I made sure to leave a huge gap between us and them to avoid an early morning beer shower. Behind us was a family with two crying toddlers and yep, instant holiday feeling!

After a rough flight, we finally touched down in Palma de Mallorca and from there, things went a lot more smoothly. This time, the transfer to our hotel took a lot longer and while we were getting a bit impatient, it was also nice because the route the coach took was one we hadn’t explored before, along the south coast which has so many gorgeous little bays and beaches.

Once we’d arrived at the hotel, we found that we’d been assigned a room on the fifth floor again, with a balcony facing the same side as last time but further down the floor and closer to the water, so our view was even better than last time. The first time I stepped out onto the balcony and saw my beloved lighthouse again, I almost cried.

(There’s actually a petition going on to save the lighthouse from being handed over to a private owner and turned into a hotel. The petition is in Spanish but if you’d still like to help by signing it, you can do so here.)

After we’d unpacked, we went down to the pool bar to enjoy our first cappucino and a Spanish omelette. I’d meant to wait until we could go to the restaurant for dinner but since I hadn’t eaten anything yet, it was just too tempting. After a few blissful hours spent enjoying the view from our balcony, we raided the buffet for dinner – and then my mom came down with yet more bad health escapades. She was sick pretty much all night and neither of us got any sleep, so the next day started with both of us tired and grumpy.

We’re the most stubborn people I know, though, and after a fantastic breakfast including eggs and yoghurt and fresh fruit (for me) and dry toast and herbal tea (for my mom), we picked up our rental car and headed out to Palma for some shopping. Since I’d had quite a lot on my list I wanted to look for and potentially buy, I’d asked if we could do that first. I’m really not good with keeping ahead of my budget, so it’s best to make bigger purchases right away. But let’s just say that shopping in Palma isn’t something you should do when you’re lacking sleep and dealing with a pounding headache.

First of all, just because your rental has great GPS navigation, you know where you’re going and you’re definitely in the right lane for a U-turn does not mean the Mallorquin drivers won’t honk at you anyway. Loudly. And a lot. And all of them at once. I invented a bunch of new swear words that I’m really quite proud of. Then there’s the fact that in a town that’s really old and has a lot of narrow streets and little space for all the tourists and locals to park their cars, underground parking sounds like a brilliant idea. But when your rental runs on Diesel and reacts completely differently than your own car and you have to drive it up a steep slope, stop and start again half way up and meet traffic lights on top that only know red and ‘I’m blinking because I want you to know that you may or may not be hit by traffic and die a painful death, good luck, muahahaha!’…well, that’s just the kind of adventure I can do without!

And all of that turned out to be for nothing. Beforehand, I had been told to check out the bigger, better, all over magnificent and heavenly Sephora on Avenida de Alexandre Roselló. After that kind of description, I was looking for a huge place, possibly one that I could see sparkling in the sunshine from afar. First I couldn’t find the street and had to ask a very amused taxi driver for help who asked if I really wanted him to drive us 150m ahead where I’d find it. Facepalm! Then we walked back and forth, even asked people, but no one knew what we were talking about. Finally, I decided that it was better to abort our mission and change our plans for the day before we killed each other or innocent people. So we went back to our car and drove back to Portocolom where we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view across the bay from a bar by the marina. They also served the best vanilla ice cream I ever had – and also the best smoothies. So the day was taking a turn for the better. Still, we barely even made it to dinner later before we crashed, finally catching up on sleep, a lot of it. With hindsight, I’m mad I let my mom’s poor health ruin things for us so much. I could have just told her that we should change our plans according to it. If we had knowingly made it a rest day, I wouldn’t even minded. I like just sitting in the sun, reading and enjoying the view. I think what made it so bad was that it wasn’t originally meant to be a rest day but if we’d been more spontaneous about it, we could have enjoyed it more anyway.

My mom asked if I wanted to go to Palma again the next day but I definitely wanted to do some sightseeing and definitely wasn’t in the mood for the busy life in Palma again. So we went to Valldemossa instead. It still is one of my favourite places on the island, although I absolutely dread the drive up there. The views are amazing but I can do without the fear of dying halfway up the mountain. But Valldemossa is so worth it all! Since it had taken us over an hour to get up there, our first stop was a little bar where we enjoyed a cold drink and a much needed restroom. It isn’t the most beautiful place since it’s right by the street but I still love it because when you sit there, you can enjoy the positive atmosphere of the place. Valldemossa attracts tourists who are interested in the monastery but also people looking for unique clothes, art or gifts and groups of cyclists. If you want to see pure happiness, look at the face of someone who cycled all the way up to Valldemossa – even if it’s just the pure happiness of having survived the hardest torture of their life!

Then we walked around the town a little bit, ventured in and out of shops and admired the beautiful old houses. Even if you’re not really looking to buy anything, the shops in Valldemossa are a must. Near the main street, there are a lot of tourist shops that you can but don’t really have to visit but when you walk further towards the monastery, there are a lot of small art and second hand shops, places that sell unique things. It’s such a change of pace from what we’re usually used to, all the chain stores and international brands.

This time we didn’t buy tickets for the monastery because we had already seen it last time. It’s interesting but once you’ve seen it, there isn’t really much to discover (for us). But we stopped for lunch in one of the little tapas bars in the square outside the entrance. My mom had proper food but I just had some bread with aioli and then a slice of caramel pudding with cream. Caramel-anything is a huge thing on Mallorca and I’d wanted to try the pudding for ages. It was…well, good. What they mean by ‘caramel’ is a lot more bitter than I’m used to and cream is often a tasteless, semi-liquid affair. But it was alright. I wasn’t really hungry anyway, just curious.

After lunch, we walked down the Carrer de Jovellanos, at the end of which you get a spectacular view of the mountains and the valley below. There were also more cafés and bars around but we were still full and not up for another stop. Still, I popped into a little art shop which sold gorgeous paintings. I would have loved to buy one but was afraid I wouldn’t get it home safely, so I opted for buying a bunch of postcards of similar designs. Always good to stock up on cards for my Postcrossing adventures. The artist was really sweet and even let me take one for free as a gift. On our way back to the car, I fell in love with it, the most beautiful bag I’d ever laid eyes on. It was in a small boutique selling unique designer pieces and I was disheartened when I saw the price of ‘my’ bag. After much debating with myself, I decided that no, I just couldn’t justify paying so much for a bag. But oh, it was so beautiful. The main part has a world map design, the front pocket is shaped and designed like an airmail envelope and the whole bag has little travel and snail mail details like an airplane charm. Sigh. Reluctantly, I walked away with a tear in my eye.

When we made it back to the car, we pondered what we should do with the rest of the day. It was already well into the afternoon but we would have had time for another stop. Since it was nearby and sounded like a nice place in our tourist guide, we decided to take the short drive to Deià. It’s supposed to be another small town, similar to Valldemossa but even more attractive for artists. But when we got there, parking seemed impossible. There are several smaller parking lots along the main road but the rest of the town stretches up and down the mountain, either with no chance to turn away from the main road at all or so steep that I didn’t dare drive there. It did seem really beautiful, though, even just the small glimpse we got at it, and we vowed to come back another time, earlier in the day. I’m not sure I’d ever want to stay in a hotel in the Serra Tramuntana because my little heart just loves the ocean too much. I want to see it from the window or at least the breakfast room or somewhere else in the hotel every morning. But the little mountain towns and villages are so charming and beautiful, I can’t help coming back there anyway.

Since we couldn’t get out of the car in Deià and it was getting too late for another stop, we drove back to Portocolom but stopped in the bar by the marina again, this time only for a cold drink and a view over the beloved marina. In fact, we stopped by that bar almost every day, not because our hotel isn’t nice but you just can’t beat the view from the marina.

For our third day, we decided to give Palma another shot. After having more rest and in a much better mood, braving the busy streets there was a lot less stressful. After having asked Auntie Google about that wondrous Sephora again, I also knew that we had indeed been in the correct street but it wasn’t a store but inside El Corte Inglés, a department store. We had planned to park elsewhere but the Gods meant for us to park in the underground parking of doom again and I really wasn’t up for looking for another space for hours. The good news was that it was just a few steps from El Corte Inglés – and that’s where I learned that Spanish retail people are either sinister or insane or both. The store had a special discount week going on where you got a discount card on which you’d get a credit of 20% of your last purchase to spend on your next purchase. So you wander from counter to counter and tell yourself you really shouldn’t buy anything but oh, you still have that XX Euros from your last purchase, so it really won’t be so bad! You can do this ad nauseum, all day everyday until either they cut and burn your credit card or someone comes to take you to the madhouse.

What follows would probably be described as a ‘shopping haul’ by all the beauty and fashion bloggers out there. I prefer to refer to it as my ‘Vacation Shopping Walk of Shame 2015’

The first thing I bought was a lipstick from MAC in the shade Violetta. After I had bought a violet lipstick from Kiko a while ago, just to test how the violet – purple theme works with me and loving it, I had meant to buy a brighter, more pigmented one. I didn’t even know MAC had a shade like that and what’s even more amazing is that my mom found it. She’s the brown eyeshadow, brown lashes type. And yet, she instantly picked it up and told me to buy it since I’d been looking for one. So I did! It’s a gorgeous shade and I like it on myself a lot but I don’t think I’m in a place where I can wear extra-ordinary shades like that everyday, so it’s a ‘special occasion’ thing for me.

Next, I traipsed over to the Sephora counter – and my heart was crushed because, what’s special about it? I’ll never know. Contrary to the actual Sephora store, they did have Urban Decay, yeah, but only the Naked 2 and 3 and the Basic Nakeds. Otherwise, they had a lot of Benefit and store brand products and a couple palettes from Too Faced. I was disappointed but I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t bought a lot anyway. My loot was a Matte Eye palette from Too Face (who can resist a palette that has an eyeshadow called Chinchilla?), two store brand nail polishes, a store brand eyeliner and a bunch of my beloved shower puffs. I’m really chuffed with the palette so far. The little tutorial sheet gives you ideas for smokey eye looks for different occasions but you can just as well mix the highly pigmented colours with other shades. The nail polish is great as usual, I love the brushes and they work really well for me. The eyeliner is okay, nothing amazing but I needed a new one and this works as well as most others. And the shower puffs are just my Holy Grail of showering. You get them anywhere, from any brand, in any price range, but Sephora’s are my favourite by far.

All over, I spent abour 65 Euros with Sephora and after that I wanted to get the hell out. But on my way to the door, I saw IT. Agent Provocateur! If you know me, you know that I lost my heart to Maitresse, their amazing perfume, and that I had my heart broken, ripped from my chest and stamped on when I couldn’t find it anywhere after using the last drops of it. At the store, they only had their new fragrances, Fatale and Fatale Pink. When I stopped at the counter, though, an elderly retail woman caught me looking and what followed was a funny conversation based on the fact that she spoke neither German nor English and I don’t speak Spanish / Mallorquin: “You like?” “Oh yes, it smells great. Do you have other fragrances by AP?” “Yes, yes.” “I was looking for Maitresse.” “Oh, yes.” “Do you have it?” “Yes, yes.” “Oh, where?” “In England!” I think she meant that they import the brand from England. But they didn’t have it (I think). Either way, Fatale Pink smells very similar and I kept sniffing it. And of course, I now had so much credit on my discount card that I basically had 50% off the price of the small bottle. So yeah, what can I say? I’m weak, so home with me it went.

But I swear, after the woman had handed me my discount card back with the remark that I now had 8 Euros from that purchase on the card again, I all but ran from that treacherous place!

Now feeling blissfully content and happily carrying my bags around, I dragged my mom further into the city center. We walking along the narrow shopping streets and tried to filter out cheap tourist stores to discover the many gems to be found among them, small places selling unique things. Surprisingly, I didn’t buy anything more but my mom purchased a new bag. Halfway along the way to the cathedreal, we stopped at the Placa Mayor, a grand square with many bars and restaurants for a snack and a cool drink. We made the mistake to stop at the first tapas bar we saw which happened to be between the large columns at one end of the square, and completely in the shade. It was quite windy, too, so our tapas (mini omelettes and cheese with olive oil) were enjoyed in a hurry because we wanted to get back into the warm sunshine. We could have done worse, though, because there are also many fast food places in the square, including a Burger King and a place selling “ham cones”, a very Mallorquin / Spanish thing I’ve never seen anywhere else before. Basically, they’re cardboard cones like the ones you can buy Dutch fries in, but they’re filled with little pieces of Serrano ham. Even though I find the ham quite tasty, eating it like fries or popcorn seems strange to me and I rather didn’t try it.

Then we walked on, looking at more shops here and there, slowly making our way towards the cathedral. We didn’t go there all the way, though, because we had no plans to go inside. The cathedral isn’t all that stunning when you’re coming from inside the city and I had learned beforehand that the square in front of it, which also faces the harbour, isn’t accessible due to maintanence works anyway. So we only walked to the Carrer de Palau Reial and then walked back, picking up some ice cream from Iceberg on the way. I had my doubts before trying it but goat’s cheese and honey was one of the best ice cream flavours I’ve ever tried.

On our way back, we took a slightly different route, checking out more of the cute little streets of Palma until we reached Palca d’Espanya and picked up our car from the Underground Parking of Doom again. Result of that day: Spent a lot of money but not nearly as much as I thought I would and had allowed myself to? Check! Fell in love again with Palma? Check! Got stuffed on a lot of yummy food? Check! Success!

The next day took us to Sollèr. We’d also been there before but out first visit had been cut shot, as we’d wanted to catch the tram to Port de Sollèr. This time we meant to spend more time there. When we arrived, there was a farmer’s market going on and the streets and the town square were packed with people. Some of the market stands were lame, selling cheap electronics and fake merchandise. But there were also nice and interesting ones that sold traditional clothing and food. We didn’t buy anything but it was interesting to see and the atmosphere was so nice, with all the locals standing around in groups and catching up with each other. What wasn’t so nice were the constant heart attacks when the tram that crosses the town square threatened to run someone over who just wouldn’t get that leaving the tracks would be a good idea, like right now!

Sadly we couldn’t enter Sant Bartomeu once more, so instead we crossed the square and walked down Carrer de sa Lluna. Again there were shops selling local specialties but we didn’t buy anything, save for some art postcards. The street was just as crowded as the market but it was good to be among locals for a change as opposed to the many tourists we’d encountered so far. Even though I’d lacked the lust for shopping all day, when we walked back to the car, I batted my eyelashes at my mom and asked if she’d mind going back to Valldemossa for a moment. And of course, she instantly guessed my plan: Pick up what I will forever refer to as the most wonderful bag I ever owned.

On our way back to Portocolom, I kept glancing at the paper bag containing my lovely purchase in the backseat. You know your money was well spent when it fills you with that much satisfaction.

For our last day with a car we had planned to drive along the south coast and then up the east coast and stop along the way wherever something caught our interest. First we drove to Colònia de Sant Jordi where we enjoyed the view and walked along the port for a little bit. The sea is so beautiful there! But the town itself didn’t seem all that fun. Next we’d meant to stop in Campos but the place seemed dead and dull, so we drove on and quickly made it to Portocristo. Now, that’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen on Mallorca. The bay makes for a stunning view and the water is so blue there, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t photoshopped even when you’re looking at it with your own eyes. We found a little bar that was set into the hill and from where we had an amazing view while we enjoyed a cold drink. Some stairs led down to the beach from there and I so wanted to descend them. But I wasn’t wearing the right shoes to walk in the sand and had no towel or anything else to get rid of the sand if I had gone barefoot, so I refrained. I definitely want to go back there and spend a day at the beach next time, though.

When we left Portocristo, I could already see that my mom wasn’t feeling well once again. So with a heavy heart, I suggested we go back to the hotel. When we reached Portocolom, though, we decided to make the short trip to the other side of the bay to pay a visit to the lighthouse. My oh my, the area is amazing! So many really pretty homes along that part of Portocolom – and so quiet and nice. We even found the only small strip of beach around there, but it didn’t seem very inviting. Seems like it’s mostly used by locals to have little family barbecues. When we reached the lighthouse we were disappointed to find we couldn’t go near it because the gate to it was locked. Not knowing what else to do, we just took some pictures and then turned around and drove back to the hotel.

The next day was a pool day and also our last day there. I’m proud to announce I did nothing but sleep, read and enjoy the last hours in Portocolom. Sadly, it was too cool to spend the whole day by the pool, so half of it was spent on the balcony and in the room to warm up a bit.

I’m really sad that the time to say our goodbyes came so soon again. This time I could have done with another week there at least. But given my mom’s condition – which had improved enough for the flight home to be smooth – I was also glad to get back home. And what do you know, one day after we got home, she was all peachy and fine.

…and now for some visual pleasures:

Categories: Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s In My Mailbox #1

Yes, I’m still alive. Things at work are…not good at the moment, so I’m not in the mood for much. Netflix and I have become quite close in the past few weeks. I can’t begin to describe how very, very much I’m looking forward to 3:00pm on Friday, when I will shut off my computer and walk out the door of the office for a much needed break.

But I’ve also been writing and receiving postcards, a fact that gave me a reason to smile every other day. As I promised – or threatened, depending on your POV – I’d like to show off an write about what I found in my mailbox every other week or month, depending on what there is to show. I can’t post every single card and hey, sometimes it’s also just nothing to write home about. But the cards – and maybe letters later – I liked the most or that stuck out for me for other reasons will get a little space here.

This one I found particularly cool. At first glance, it’s a postcard style you get a lot from China or other Asian countries. A drawing, colourful and really cute. But if you look closer, it’s a Postcrossing card. The person write that they had found it randomly, not in a special Postcrossing store or as part of a collection. I’m glad they decided to send it to me. Also, if the representation of the different mailboxes are only half correct, everywhere else has so much cooler ones than ours here in Germany. They’re just square yellow metal boxes. Boo!

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain why I actually squealed when I found this one in my mailbox, right? It was the first and only raccoon card I received so far. My profile says that I like them but I understand that not many people will have raccoons available. I’ve come across many profiles of people like me who like a specific, less popular anymore and it’s the same for them. I tried to have a few different animals, even exotic ones I’d never heard of, in my collection but it’s impossible to please everyone. This card came from Germany, by the way. Awwwww!

This one is so weirdly cool, I had to share it. If I was to describe the card, it’d sound silly but somehow, it works and the whole vintage style makes it look really awesome. I received a lot of cat and kitten cards but this one is unique. It came from Poland.

I received this card from a Russian Postcrosser. Russia has the most Postcrossing users, so you get a loooot of cards from there. This one is my favourite so far. The person wrote that the artist’s name is Sasha Salmina. I really like the colours of this one and how, at first glance, the girl looks lonely and sad but the longer you look at it, the happier she seems, like maybe she’s just enjoying a rare, quiet moment alone. That’s another cool feature of Postcrossing: It introduces you to new kinds of people and new things, such as art, music, authors, quotes…whatever the person decides to share with you.

Have I mentioned how much I love art cards? No? Well, I do. This one came from the UK and I like that the person chose to share an image from the Greek mythology with me.

So, as you can see, I get a lot of different cards, a lot of things I wouldn’t have asked for specifically but then ended up loving. I also get tourist cards and I enjoy those a lot. I know I haven’t shared of of those yet and you know why? Oddly, I don’t receive all that many of those. A lot of people on the website ask for tourist cards, famous sights or buildings, but when you look through the galleries, most cards sent and received seem to be of other places. So far it seems that people from East Europe are either the most proud of their countries or they just find more postcards of that kind because most of the tourist cards I received came from there.

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Online Dating or Why I Became A Crazy Cat Lady

I spent most of my life being a single. Unlike a lot of other women, I never had a big problem with that. There’ve always been times when I craved a hug or a cuddle or kissing or making out or plain and simple steamy sex. But those have come and gone like other cravings, sometimes fulfilled, sometimes not. When I was in a relationship, I’d crave being single in return. In conclusion, I’m not desperate. I’m not waiting or looking, I’m just living and taking life as it comes. Nevertheless, I’m very much all over the Internet. I blog, I play online games, I have profiles on various social media sites – so it was only a matter of time until I would give online dating a try.

Although it wasn’t originally my idea. It started as a laugh and the one responsible for me even learning about the different websites is my dear friend Annette. She’s usually a lot more curious and casual about meeting new people and trying new things than I am and one day we met for lunch and she started telling me about all these freaks sending her creepy messages. She wasn’t appalled, though, but rather amused. She also told me about the few nice guys she was talking to and had actually met, and eventually she entered a relationship with one of them. Reason enough for me to become curious.

Now, as I mentioned before I’m not desperate. I don’t mind dying alone and my dead body being eaten by my cats. At least not enough to want to pay for online matches or being tricked into paying a fortune for nothing. Lucky for me, there are a lot of free websites. When I started writing this post, I wondered if I should fork out the links but to be honest, I can’t recommend any of them with a good conscience. If you’re really curious or in the mood to see humanity at its worst, feel free to use Google, it’s how I found the websites myself.

I made sure to only sign up on international websites because I’m not good at expressing myself in German. Which sounds freaky, I know, because it is my mother tongue. But for some reason, I just really hate every word that comes out of my mouth when I’m trying to have a serious or emotional conversation with someone. And also – and this sounds even worse – I can’t relate to most Germans. At least not on a romantic or sexual level. Which online dating is all about. So, international it was. The problem with that is when you’re using a website that is international and free, you’re stuck between two options: Do you want to seem racist because you block certain countries or dig through dozens of messages from scammers every single day? Most start with the latter but end up blocking a bunch of countries anyway. I’ve blocked some on occasion but usually took it back a day later because I feel it isn’t fair.

The first decision I needed to make was “Picture or no picture?” Showing your mug anywhere on the Internet always means you’re risking to be recognized. It is unlikely that someone from my job or anyone I know will come across my profile and even so, how bad would that really be? And yet, it still seems like a terrible scenario. But, gathering all my courage, I chose to add a picture of myself anyway. As far as social media or other online profiles are concerned, nothing bothers me more than people not providing a picture of themselves. It’s not so much a matter of me wanting to see and judge their looks but I automatically wonder what they’re doing with that profile that makes them feel so ashamed they don’t want their real identity to be associated with it. Are they lying about who they are? Are they looking for someone to fulfill weird sexual cravings? Maybe looking to commit a crime. Oh my god, are they serial killers? See, there are a million and one bad things not having a profile picture will make people think about you. And if you’re being honest on your profile and you treat people decently and respectfully, there’s really no reason why you would not want them to see your face. I am, however, not free of vanity. And of course, I uploaded one of the few pictures of myself that I actually like. I admit I’m wearing quite a bit of makeup in it. But then again, I wear quite a bit of makeup on a daily basis, so it’s not like that picture is showing a different person. And really, are those guys real that you read about on the Internet? Who think wearing thick eyeliner and bright lipstick is a matter of lying to them? Do they really assume those are natural when they see us with them? Of course, there’s a plainer version of us underneath!

Filling out out the profile was even harder. What do you write in there? Are you gonna be honest or sugarcoat things? Do you write a few noncommittal things and risk to blend right in with the mass of other profiles? I chose to be honest, listing flaws and much as strengths. And you know what? It really doesn’t matter because no one actually reads your profile. In response, I got a bunch of messages on all websites I registered with. If I had to divide them, I’d say they were about 75% pure despair. People from poor countries or with such low self-esteem, they probably wrote to everyone on that website in the hope of getting lucky with someone. I’d say there was a mere 1% who did not start with complimenting my appearance or otherwise just addressing a superficial issue. Yes, that’s how few people actually bothered to read the profile, take a moment to think about it and then come up with something they wanted to tell me based on what I’d written. That’s terrible! What’s worse, even going by my picture, it would be obvious for most of them that no, we aren’t a match. I chose a picture in which you can see my tattoos and piercing and I’m wearing bright lipstick and dark eye makeup. In my profile, I wrote that I like rock music and tattoos and that I’m not, definitely not, traditional in any way. And guess what? The majority of guys who wrote me were people who used a neat business profile picture, of them wearing dull and grey suits and their profile was basically a list of their professional achievements. When I could be bothered to reply and I asked them to tell me a little about themselves, I’d get a rerun of that. “Hi, my name is Bob and I’m a business consultant.” “Hi Bob, I’m Kathy and I’m a person, not a job.”

The first website I signed up with turned out to be the most appalling, too. First of all, it lets you send as many messages as you want to anyone you want for free. That’s good, right? No, because in order for you to read the message, one of you has to be a paying member. This doesn’t stop a bunch of free users from messaging me anyway, trying to squeeze their Skype or Kik ID into the short character limit of the free message preview.

That’s an issue anyway. The majority of guys would ask for a contact outside of the dating website right there in their first message, usually Skype or some other means of communication involving a cam. Sure, because I’m so terribly keen on having someone see me in a ratty old t-shirt and obscenely dirty sweatpants on a Saturday night. Or, worse, have a stranger wave their dick at me via webcam. Thanks, but no, thanks! If you can’t express yourself in writing, I’m not interested in a more personal contact.

That’s another thing. Most of the guys on those websites seem to be under the impression that text lingo and the lack of punctuation or any recognizable grammar or sentence structure makes them absolutely irresistible. God’s gift to women even! I’m sorry to burst your bubble, gentlemen, but nope. Nope, nope, nope!

And then, well, there’s this…

Why? How? What?

That escalated quickly, right? Maybe I’m being dense but what’s the author of these gems trying to tell me? “I took the time to register on this website and even though there are other free places that would probably make it easier for me to get some play, I chose this one. Because I’m dumb, LOL.” Or maybe “I’m interested in you but I want to make it clear from the start that I don’t respect you enough to try and make proper conversation.” Who knows? He’s a real keeper, right?

But he’s nothing compared to the real gem I found on the next website I signed up with.

Beautiful, right? Let’s forget about the fact that he was a guy from South America whose English was quite poor. I’m pretty sure that there’s no culture or language in the world where this would be an okay thing to say to a stranger. Probably not even to a friend. So, does he belong in the lack of respect category as well? I don’t even know. This is so wrong and so…absurd that I don’t even know where to begin listing the many things that are wrong with it.

And that’s not even the worst about that website. That would be them automatically setting you up for an email notification every time someone likes your profile. The subject of that email says ‘Hurry to see if you like them back’. Hurry! What is this? A race? Do I have to go and lick the finest piece of meat before anyone else gets a chance? This is so wrong! And what will happen if I don’t? Am I destined to die alone? You know what? I’ll gladly live and die alone if the alternative is spending the rest of eternity with a guy who ‘likes farts from big bubble grande ass’, thank you very much!

P.S.: No, I couldn’t be bothered to meet any of these gems and with every single notification that pops up in my inbox, this seems more attractive:

Categories: Me Myself and I | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Finding The World In My Mailbox

A while ago I already wrote about how much I enjoy writing and receiving letters. I can proudly say my penpal friendships are going strong. Right now, I have three steady friendships with regular exchanges and two in that delicate state where you don’t know where it’s going, yet. Much like with other friendships, I prefer a few penpals whom I hold very close to my heart over having a bunch of them with whom I exchange quick and superficial letters.

Through one of my penpals, I found a new hobby of mine: Postcrossing. Even though the community has existed for several years and has thousands of members, I figure there’ll be others like me who’ve never heard of it, so let me explain: Postcrossing is a community for people who enjoy sending and receiving postcards. The idea is that for every card you send, you’ll receive one in return. But not from the person you sent yours to but another random member who can draw your address from the pool. That way, you never know who and where your next card will come from. I absolutely love this idea and it took me about five seconds of looking at the website before signing up. As I said, with penpals, I prefer to make real friends, share personal things and worries. But through Postcrossing, you can reach out to random strangers and put a smile on their face (hopefully) when they find a nice card between all the bills and newsletters in their mailbox. And then someone, somewhere will return the favor.

The community has a lot of members who are collectors of cards in general, certain themes or stamps. Some even ask for something else like ticket stubs, teabags or other small things you could fit in an envelope. What I like is that people can’t make demands, only wishes. I always try to find something fitting but sometimes, it’s just impossible to find the exact thing someone is looking for. Just the other day I drew a guy’s address who was very much into trains and spacecraft and if he got a tourist card, he preferred mountains. Well, there aren’t mountains nearby and frankly, I don’t even know where to buy cards of his other interests around here, either. I sent him something else and he was still happy, or said he was anyway.

I myself have quite the elaborate profile. I’m excited about pretty much anything I get but I know how frustrating it can be to draw the address of a person who only has a random ‘Send me any card you like’-profile and then you struggle to go by their avatar, cards they’ve favorited and cards they’ve received to find something suitable. Because, let’s face it, even if you’re pretty easy to please, there are always things you like more than others, things you don’t enjoy at all and even things that can be a trigger for you. So I put a list up of things I like or enjoy, on cards and in general, just to give people a rough idea. But even then, I know it can be hard. As seen on the picture, the easiest of my likes for people to please are cats. GIVE ME ALL YOUR KITTY CARDS!!! There wasn’t a single one I pulled out of the mailbox without squealing in delight.

But sometimes, what’s even more important to me than the cute, beautiful, funny or surprising picture on the card is the message on the back. Even though they’re usually not very personal – they’re from strangers, after all – I’m not gonna share those here, of course. At least not in detail. But there’ve been some truly cute and nice messages from people who have such interesting lives. I’ve received some from people who volunteer in charities and humanitarian organizations. And some from people who have such interesting tastes and hobbies. My favorite are those from people who sign cards with their own name and those of their pets.

In the picture on the right, you can see my four favorites so far. The first one is the very first card I received. It came from the Czech Republic, from a very young girl who is active on Postcrossing with the help of her father. The second is the one that had the longest time of travel so far. It came from South Africa, also from a young girl. The third is from the Netherlands and my favorite kitten card so far. And the fourth is my favorite illustration so far, also showing a cat, having tea with a rabbit. That one came from Belgium.

Another thing I like about Postcrossing is that its main aim may be to allow people to send and receive cards all across the globe, to and from locations they’ll probably never visit, but it also leads to happy or funny situations between two strangers.

The nicest story I have to share so far is about a card I sent to a girl who doesn’t even live very far from me here in Germany. Her profile said she was very much into music and books and she asked people to tell her their favorite song on the card. It was a wish I fulfilled only too gladly, along with telling her a bit about myself and my taste. I waited a couple days, nothing. I waited for a week, nothing. It’s very weird for a card to take longer than a week when it’s sent within Germany. After over two weeks, I had already submitted myself to the idea that it would probably expire (cards expire after 60 days, so you can send another card to a new address and the original recipient’s address can get drawn from the pool again, although the card can still get registered if it does arrive after all). But then, after over three weeks, I suddenly received the Hurray-mail from the girl. She had received the card, after all, but was in the middle of her finals and so stressed she’d all but forgotten about it. She wrote me the longest Hurray-message and we talked back and forth for a bit. Actually, this rollercoaster ride of “Oh no, I think the card is lost” to “Oh my god, the recipient is the nicest person ever!” has become quite common with me now.

In fact, the only not so nice story I have to share so far is that one of the cards I received from China was an ad-card. Ad-cards are free promotional cards you receive from businesses or find in bars and restaurants to promote a business or website. I’m not opposed to receiving them, unlike many other Postcrossers. In Germany we have a PR brand called Edgar that produce a bunch of really funny or cute ad-cards that you can grab for free in bars, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. And I’ve seen a bunch of similar cool cards from other countries on Postcrossing that I’d be glad to receive. But that particular card was just lame. It was just white with red Chinese letters and a website address in Latin letters (that’s how I know it was an ad-card in the first place, as the sender didn’t even provide a translation). There was no message on the card, either, just some scribbling that I assume was a signature but which I took for a pen accident at first. So I had no name, no message, nothing. That’s just rude and I was pretty upset about it. I vented in the official forums for a bit and people suggested that maybe it was a religious or cultural thing preventing the person from leaving a personal message. Apparently, that exists. It did make me feel better to imagine that it wasn’t just a thoughtless person but I still hope I won’t receive something similar anytime soon.

But other than that, I’m pretty damn happy with my new hobby. Expect to see me yap about it a lot more in the future.

Categories: What's In My Mailbox | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

[Book Rawrview] “Teach Me” or Touching the Forbidden Fruit

I recently finished another fantastic YA read. This one had been on my wishlist for quite a long time and I don’t know why I chose that moment to purchase the eBook as my next read but I’m glad I did.

The story has nothing in common with Me Before You at all but one thing that made me think of that book right away was that it, too, had a description that gives you a different idea of what the book is about, just like I wrote about Me Before You.

It touches the very delicate subject of a romantic relationship between student and teacher and that’s a difficult thing to do. Naturally, there are very strong opinions on that and you won’t exactly find open doors when trying to get the POV of the people involved across, especially the teacher’s.

In this case, the teacher is Mr. Mann. He’s new at Nine’s school. The beginning is pretty much what you’d expect. He’s rather young, his teaching methods aren’t very traditional and she recognises Nine’s potential right away – so of course, she has a crush on him from day one. The story moves along pretty quickly and we learn that the feeling is mutual and that Mr. Mann isn’t even seriously trying to hold back. What’s really charming is that Nine isn’t a youthful temptress who seduces her teacher with a playful innocence wrapped in a perfect body. She’s a nerd, she isn’t very charming and not even very feminine, either. You really want to believe that they find a kindred soul in each other.

But still, so far the story is pretty much what you’d expect. What you don’t see coming is how quickly their relationship spirals downwards. For about two thirds of the book, we deal with Nine’s severe heartache, her struggle with loss and a broken heart and we witness as she’s stuck between being a heartbroken teenager and the young woman she’d almost become under Mr. Mann’s guidance. It does get pretty freaky at some point, especially considering that Nine is lacking the support system most young girls have when they’re dealing with their first big heartache. For one, she doesn’t have many friends. And the people she could turn to don’t know about her relationship with a teacher. So the situation does get pretty strange and serious for her.

That’s the part I didn’t expect. I thought the story would focus more on both of them trying to defend their love and deal with the strong opinions of other. But to my surprise, I didn’t like the story any less this way. Nine is a fascinating character, sometimes old beyond her years and sometimes still heartbreakingly young and innocent. Nelson painted such a likeable picture of a young woman, and his other characters were just as detailed and charming. You can’t help but both, fancy and hate Mr. Mann a little bit and if you close the book at the end without having reserved a special place in your heart for Schuyler, I don’t think we can be friends, I’m sorry. As well as Nine’s dad!

Please, do yourself a favor and read this book. I’m not kidding, it really is that good!

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It’s the End of the World As We Know It

So yesterday was the day. The Day. I mean THE DAY.

After making plans to leave work early, I ended up taking the whole day off, knowing I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on much anyway. So I slept in, then grabbed my mom and we drove to Düsseldorf for my appointment with the clinic for the Endobarrier.

And what can I say? I went to Düsseldorf and talked to a doctor and all I got was this stupid picture of a cat house.

But let me start in the beginning.

I was already disheartened when we drove by the clinic and found it was quite a shabby little place, not what you would imagine an institution to look like that specializes in exciting new treatments to help people with body issues there wasn’t a solution for before. The car park pretty much looked like what I imagine the surface of Mars to be like. Hello, potholes filled with waters so vast I wasn’t sure if I was even in the same country when I made it out on the other end. Finding the way inside was equally challenging, with lots of signs leading nowhere or to locked doors.

Inside, the place seemed okay-ish enough and the assistant was nice but while I was talking to him, a doctor came along and gave me this strange look, then started talking about me with the assistant. Helloooo, I’m right here?! To my horror, he was the guy I was supposed to talk to and who’d put in the Endobarrier.

He told me to follow him, even though I was early, and then the first thing he said was that I was the wrong type of diabetes and why was I even there? I’m a type one and apparently, the treatment is only aimed at patients with a type two diabetes. I had only even seen type two mentioned everywhere in the flyers they’d sent me but since both, my diabetes counselor and her boss had recommended me, I figured that maybe the studies only referred to type two because there’d been more cases or whatever. I could have called them about it but let’s face it, when two specialists suggest something, such a minor detail doesn’t really make you suspicious, does it?

What bothered me the most was the way he was talking to me. Admittedly, from his point of view, the whole preparation was a mess. The form I’d had to fill out before wasn’t complete. There were things I didn’t know and when I’d handed it in to my doc to forward to the clinic, I’d attached a post-it with all the things that they should add, i.e. blood test results. Well, turns out they didn’t. Why hadn’t I attached something from a gym or somewhere showing timestamps of when I had worked out and where? Why wasn’t there anything about a food coach in there yet? Well, because no one had told me those were required! No, actually that’s not even true. Not only hadn’t they told me I didn’t need that at this point, they’d specifically said I should wait and that a food coach would be part of the Endobarrier treatment. No one told me I had to have completely at least two months with one of those to even apply for my insurance to cover the costs. And work out? Well, what do you do if you’re not a member of any gym? If I took up swimming, our local pool has annual memberships and you can come and go whenever you want. There’d simply be no way for me to prove this.

My favorite part of the talk was when he asked me how I felt about this and if I had any more questions and I said that, to be honest, I was quite mad at my doctor for not only giving me all the wrong information but also for letting me walk into this blindly because it was quite a waste of time. And the idiot said he wasn’t mad because it was his job to talk to people and if it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else, so it wasn’t a waste of time. Well, not for you! For me, it was months and months of time and energy wasted on hoping for something that won’t happen, a bunch of extra hours of work I could have taken off to do something fun and a trip to Düsseldorf for, well, nothing.

The only upside is, apparently they’d also lied about the possible weight loss results. According to my doctor, it would be at the very least 15%, probably a lot more. Well, the guy said I should expect a maximum of 20kg, probably a lot less because of how the weight is carried with me. I’m sorry, I know it isn’t only about weight loss here, but that result really wouldn’t be worth all the bureaucratic hassle it would take (another thing my doctor completely played down).

I was so very fucking mad! The first thing I did was cry. A lot. Then I got angry and bitched. A lot.

We were supposed to spend the rest of the day in Düsseldorf, do some shopping, have dinner… But suddenly I was very, very sick of that place and its posh people and its stupid doctors who probably drive a Porsche that they bought with money made from people’s tears. Yes, I’m being overdramatic!

So instead, we drove to a mall near my hometown where we had coffee and I bitched some more – my mom actually joining in this time. And then I went to my favorite lingerie store. I don’t know why but buying delicate things like lingerie that you get to carry home in pretty little bags and that get wrapped in gorgeous thin paper for you to unwrap like a gift when you get home…it’s just oddly satisfying. Even more so than shoes. And I did buy a bra and it is gorgeous and I love the bag I got for it. But still, it wasn’t the best idea I ever had. I love that chain and I love their products (especially because they carry actual wearable plus sizes in decent colors!) but the woman in the changing rooms in that branch just wouldn’t take no for an answer. She attacked me with a measuring tape and just kept poking her head into the cabin without asking and really, when you’ve spent the day dealing with all your imperfections and had your hopes crushed to get help with them (actually even being told yours are the wrong imperfections!), the last thing you need is another stranger taking a closer look at them! Didn’t stop me from buying, though. What ever stopped me from swiping my credit card through a card reader?

Anyway…bad day, hopes crushed, one more door closed. I’ll take a while to lick my wounds and then move on. Finding other ways, trying other things, moving forward in my own pace. Fuck ’em doctors, yo!

Categories: Weight Loss | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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