Wanderlust

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

Another Piece of My Heart Lost

If you’re a perceptive person and glanced at the little Instagram feed waaaaay down on the bottom of my blog, you may have noticed that the past few days saw me feeding my IG account with a bunch of sightseeing pictures from London. Only just over a month since my last visit to this beautiful, beautiful city, I went back, this time to conquer the place with Mel.

Uhm...anyone alive?

Uhm…anyone alive?

After catching an insane 7 AM flight from Weeze to Stansted, we found an almost empty arrivals area and a slightly busier shopping area where we had to kill some time and enjoy a quick breakfast of sandwiches before catching out airport shuttle into the city. At this point I was already pretty convinced that I must have the face of a terrorist or a drug smuggler because at every passport control, it took a lot of glancing back and forth between my passport, their screen and my face and I was already preparing myself for a chat with a grumpy official. In the end, though, they always waved me through anyway. “No, officer, I’m not on any drugs, I’m just running on three hours of sleep!”

The airport shuttle was…a surprise. We’d watched all the huge modern coaches from National Express and Terravision come and go and I was already looking forward to an hour of napping in a comfortable seat when our Easybus shuttle arrived. I have no idea where they took the name Easybus from because the thing was pretty much an empty coke can on wheels, driven by a grumpy guy who seemed to trust that everyone would enjoy a little fearing for their life first thing after arriving in London. With hindsight, it was hilarious.

Heh.

Heh.

The shuttle dropped us off at Old Street from where we could catch the Northern Line straight down to our hotel in Clapham. Clapham is an area I had never been to before but I found it quite agreeable. There’s nothing exciting to do or see there and it’s really just one of the many cute little parts of London that are mostly residential but have a High Street to serve people’s everyday needs. But it was cute, with a large green common area and rather well kept town houses, so our hotel’s location could have been way worse. The first day, we had to walk quite a distance because the hotel’s information had said that it was right between two tube stations and it didn’t matter which one we got off on. The next day we found out that ‘right between’ means one is a 10 minute walk away, the other just around the corner. But at least we got to see a little of Clapham that way (and found that it had a café with a clever Game of Thrones reference.  Heh.). And being able to catch the Northern Line also is a good thing because it’s so easy to get somewhere with it. The hotel also seemed quite okay when we arrived, even though they wanted £4 just for storing our luggage. But it was either that or drag the suitcases around all day.

Come on, it's mandatory!

Come on, it’s mandatory!

After dropping our luggage off, we were faced with the decision of what to do first and guess what? We ended up at Starbucks! But not without saying hello to Piccadilly Circus. What is it about that place? You always hear about people running into celebrities there and even ‘mortal’ locals often happen to go to that place. I can’t imagine Parisians just randomly visiting the Eiffel Tower or New Yorkers to hang out by Lady Liberty’s feet but Londoners really seem to like Piccadilly Circus. Not like I could blame them, of course. It really is a magical place, even though I miss all the really cool stores they used to have there. (Read: I miss being able to buy records just anywhere in London without relying on HMV on Oxford Street!)

Please notice the gorgeous blue sky!

Please notice the gorgeous blue sky!

Starbucks served us well, even though it’s safe to say we both felt tired and exhausted from the early flight all day. Since Mel had made plans with a friend to catch up, we told her we’d meet her at the British Museum, so we were headed there next. The thing with museums is that I have mixed feelings about them. Art is a wonky subject because I can’t get into everything but then there are pieces that capture me so much I can sit and stare at them for ages. With historical stuff, I can never get excited about huge displays of many tiny bits and pieces but I love large pieces and statue that make me imagine what they looked like originally, where they used to be before and what it must have been like there. So the British Museum is perfect for me. Their Egyptian, Roman and Greek exhibitions have so many remarkable things to offer and I feel like they’re doing such a great job at creating just the right atmosphere for every piece. For example in many of

Word!

Word!

the Egyptian rooms, the lights are dimmed a little, the walls are a little darker and they often created an atmosphere that made you feel like you were walking straight into a tomb. And the Roman and Greek parts were often really light and airy. I just love visiting this museum, even though its architecture is a little more modern and not quite as stunning as the Natural History museum. Mel’s friend joined us halfway into our visit and we explored the Asian exhibition and a few other parts together before finishing our visit in the library (cue me fangirling!). Sadly, the doors to the large reading room were closed but nonetheless, the library is stunning! What I wouldn’t give to spend a day there reading. The only thing I don’t like is that there aren’t any books on the shelves anymore. I get that it would just be too much work to take care of it all and people can’t go up on the galleries anyway, so it isn’t like anyone ever gets to appreciate what’s on the shelves anyway but I don’t know. An empty library feels a little like a dead body.

I don’t even remember if we had any more plans for that day but we ended up having what was supposed to be a quick dinner but got extended to a long dinner and drinks and chat session. Which was just as well, as far as I’m concerned. By that time my feet hurt and I was ready to curl up under the table and go to sleep. We talked about music a lot (well, for the most part I listened because, despite not being interested in some of the bands they talked about, I just love listening to people talk about their favorite music because it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to know people still appreciate it) and when we made it back to Oxford Street for some shopping at HMV, I bought two albums on impulse. The Third Three Years by Frank Turner which has live recordings from one of his shows in Wembley (because nothing ever beats Frank Turner live shows!) and Get Hurt by The Gaslight Anthem. Admittedly, no new discoveries but I finally caught up with some of my favorites.

After saying goodbye to our company, we made it back to our hotel for a somewhat early night in. For me it is always strange sharing a room with people for the first time. No matter how well you know someone, your evening and morning rituals are always something they haven’t seen yet. But I believe Mel and I made the best of the tiny space we had in our room. And tiny it was. But somewhat clean and the bed was alright-ish, so it was okay.

London has a beautiful love affair with modern ceilings like this.

The next day started with the usual question: What do we do first? We decided to go to King’s Cross first to feed our little Potterhead needs. Upon arriving at Platform 9 3/4, we were a little disheartened to find they made people queue up and pose in front of a professional photographer and everyone else. The good thing is you don’t have to get a professional photo done but can also just let your friend take a picture. So that’s what we did. Or Mel did, anyway. I still get a little breathless imagining myself posing in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s stupid and I kinda regret not doing it but there’s always next time and now that I know what it’s like, I can begin giving myself pep talks two months in advance. We also visited the Platform 9 3/4 store and splurged a little. I bought a ticket for the Hogwarts Express, writing paper and a card holder which came in handy for my several credit and ID cards, so I didn’t have to carry my huge wallet around all the time. When we left, I figured I should have bought postcards but when I told my mom about the whole experience, she said she wants to see it, too, so I suppose I’ll be back in November anyway. King’s Cross itself was a surprise for me because I thought it wouldn’t be so modern. Other than that, it was just a typical train station, I suppose. It also brought us the scariest moment of the whole trip, though. When we were in the HP store, there was an announcement asking all passengers and visitors to leave the station immediately. Suddenly, there was police around everywhere and no one knew what was up. I have to say, though, Londoners are quite hardcore about these things, especially after the whole Charlie Hebdo panic. Everyone was just randomly standing around, some people just went to get a snack and others even refused to interrupt what they were doing. We walked around the station in search of a Starbucks or some other place where we could wait and then go back in later but by the time we had walked around to the other end, people were already walking into the station again. We followed carefully, halfway expecting to get kicked out again but nope. In general, I’d say my anxiety over the whole terrorism affair is pretty bad right now and I had been a little nervous about going to such a popular place as London, so I didn’t really need this kind of shock, but I’m glad it ended up being nothing.

In front of Sherlock's door with my Harry Potter bag - does that scream NERD or what?

In front of Sherlock’s door with my Harry Potter bag – does that scream NERD or what?

Our next step took is straight to Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I don’t know how often Mel apologized for ‘Sherlockizing’ this trip and I don’t know how often I told her it’s okay but it was often. We did a lot of Sherlock-related things and I didn’t mind in the slightest. First of all, it did introduce me to ‘new’ things about London I hadn’t seen and hadn’t done or even known about before. And then – as with the music talk – I just like seeing people get excited about the things they like. And I’m sure she’ll hate me for saying this but Mel is quite adorable when it is about something she’s truly excited about.

We ended our visit with mandatory pictures of ourselves posing in front of Sherlock’s front door. I was surprised to find there was no long queue outside because posing for pictures is completely free and I figured even a lot of passersby would stop to do so.

I’m nowhere near a Sherlockian but even I found some of the things they sold in the shop enticing. We didn’t buy anything, though, safe for the ticket to enter the museum. ‘Museum’ is a strange word here because it felt more like visiting someone’s home. 221b Baker Street doesn’t only look like a random town house from the outside, it also looks and feels that way from the inside, complete with cute wallpapers and creaking floor boards. The first two floors were awesome in the way that they looked like Sherlock was about to return any minute now. The last two were still cozy but they’d set up scenes from the books, using mannequins with often creepy faces and I didn’t like that as much. But the rest of the house I wanted to make my own. Even though my own rooms are so high and airy, I love small and cozy rooms, which a lot of British homes offer, and 221b Baker Street isn’t an exception to that. And the fireplaces! Oh dear!

 

Hay's Galleria - Our not so little shelter from the cold

Hay’s Galleria – Our not so little shelter from the cold

I don’t remember if it was our original plan or whether we made spontaneous adjustments but next we found ourselves at London Bridge from where we had a stunning view towards Tower Bridge. We decided to take a stroll along the Thames down towards Tower Bridge and passed Hay’s Galleria on the way. That’s another thing about London I love so much: You can just start walking somewhere and on the way you’ll pass many gorgeous little things you didn’t even know where there. According to the description, the Galleria used to be a wharf in former times but nowadays it’s something like a huge courtyard in which you’ll find bars, cafe´s and restaurants and also a few stalls selling crafts. We had a coffee at Starbucks and marvelled at the fact that we were sitting outside but somewhat sheltered, so it was unbearably cold.

Be still my heart!

Be still my heart!

Feeling refreshed, we pushed on towards Tower Bridge, but not without stopping to take a bunch of selfies in front of it. We were in good company, though, as a Spanish (?) travel group posed for a bunch of action group photos. Who could blame them (or us), though, since the bridge was simply stunning with the lights on and surrounded by all the other lights along the river. I can also proudly announce that after nearly five years, Mel and I managed to take our first real picture (well, pictures) together. And with Tower Bridge as our background, too. It feels like we’ve been waiting for this perfect opportunity.

Spooky trees in front of the Tower

Spooky trees in front of the Tower

We crossed the bridge, again feeling stunned by how huge and gorgeous and impressive it is up close, and found ourselves in front of the Tower. By then, it was too dark for any proper sightseeing. Or least to take proper pictures, as the seeing certainly wasn’t a problem with all the many lights around, making the whole city seem even more magical than it usually does. But since we’re little tourists at heart, we decided to put an end to the sightseeing for the night and went back to Oxford Street for some shopping.

Once there, our first stop was House of Fraser where I finally bought Mel her Christmas present. I’d given her a voucher for a Naked Basics Palette from Urban Decay since I didn’t just want to buy one and find she didn’t like the colors as much. It turned out to be a good decision because she wasn’t so excited about either of the Basics but lost her heart to the Naked 2 instead. So we bought that. I’m glad to finally welcome her to the world of Naked Addicts. Heh.

Next we went to Waterstones and the usual thing happened: I drag someone to a bookstore intending to BUY ALL THE BOOKS! but then end up not really able to find anything or get excited about anything and making an alibi purchase but my company buying something despite not even planning to do so. I’m also sorry to report that Mel’s purchase of Tinder was infinitely cooler than my simply continuing the I Heart series by buying the next instalment, I Heart Vegas. We ended the night with a visit to the Waterstones café downstairs where I had a delicious White Hot Chocolate and she had the grossest bottle of cola either of us had ever tasted.

The next early morning found us starting to hate our hotel a little bit because the fire alarm went off at four in the morning, and again several times between seven and eight. When Mel asked about it later, they said it was because of the construction workers they had around to refurbish and renovate the hotel but that they’d leave at six that night and it would be fine. Tired and still somewhat disgruntled but soothed by this news, we went out on our next adventure.

This time, our way led us to our next Sherlockian point on our to-do list, the Sherlock Exhibition at the Museum of London. Compared to the Sherlock Museum it was quite the culture shock because the whole museum, including the exhibition, was so very modern. All white, shiny walls, flat screens and audio effects. For me personally, the exhibition was very interesting because it focused largely on London during Sherlock (or Doyle’s) time, showing all pictures from the time, explaining a lot about the infrastructure and means of transport. But I suppose for real fans of the books, author and screenplays, it must be quite disappointing because it touches so many aspects but never really reaches much depth with anything. The museum itself wasn’t all that fantastic, either. The only absolutely cool thing was the Victorian Way, an area where they reconstructed what an old shopping district might have looked like (in a clean indoors kind of way, at least). It wasn’t amazing but I guess in a city that has so many museums, one has to be the lame one.

After leaving the museum, we walked down to St. Paul’s. Up until then we’d been so lucky with the weather, all blue skies and a kind of sunny cold. But that day was grey and dull and even a bit rainy and I’m afraid it pressed down on my mood a little bit. Nevertheless, we walked around the church and took some pictures but refrained from going inside because the entrance fee they’re asking for these days is just rude. And either way, the outside is already stunning enough for me.

I'm gonna love you and squeeze you and call you George!

I’m gonna love you and squeeze you and call you George!

The next step took us to the National History Museum where both of us had a fangirlgasm. Mel because of the architecture and I because of the little guy you see on the left. It was my third time visiting this museum and believe it or not, I had always forgotten to go look for a raccoon! Eek!  He’s a little faded and old and doesn’t look too friendly but I still wanted to take him home. I fear a couple of Asian kids thought I’d lost it because I snapped about a dozen pictures from all angles, and only of this little fella. Well, excuuuuuse me, I’m having a moment here!

Since stuffed animals and hordes of French school kids weren’t exactly to our liking that evening, we made it our of the museum after dragging me away from the critter and then…I flew. Yup, I flew down the entrance stairs, luckily only the last step, twisted my toe and ended right on my knees. I just crouched there and mumbled something like “OMG, oh please, oh no!”, feeling like the biggest tool. Luckily there was hardly anyone around, only a woman and her kid who probably thought that the chubby woman on her knees wasn’t just clumsy but also possessed of some kind of demon. A stronger character than me would have found this hilarious because even while I was falling I thought that, hm, this is kind of a slo-mo action here. Kudos to Mel who either pretended not to notice or left me the dignity of pretending I wasn’t sniffling and hobbling around all teary-eyed while nursing my bruised ego which was the only thing that took away a serious injury. Given my weight and the angle of the fall, I already saw myself in hospital with knee caps resembling crushed crisps. I also felt phantom blood trickling down my leg all the time even though I knew it couldn’t be bleeding because not even my jeans were sticking to my knees. Back in the hotel later, I found the left one a bit swollen and bruised quite colorfully and the right showing almost no sign of the accident. By now, the left is almost black (the first time I get to know why they call it ‘black and blue’!) but walking barely hurts anymore, so I guess I’ll get around seeing a doctor this time.

Despite the fall, I bit my lip and went through the rest on our list. To be honest, since I was with someone so much fitter and more in shape than me, I had already been struggling with keeping up all the time. During most of our trip I felt a bit like Samwell Tarly on his way beyond the Wall. But hey, even he had his pride and so did I! And that’s a good thing because so much good came out of that. First of all we got to do and see a lot more than if I had listened to my body’s complaining and taken a million breaks all day. Then I could just file it under exercise. And finally, apart from losing another piece of my heart to London, I also left over two kilos there. So really, the sore muscles and aching joints were so worth it.

Hello Gorgeous!

Anyway, after my free fall performance, we finally visited Big Ben to say hello. But again, it was too dark for proper pictures, so we walked to Trafalgar Square and down Northumberland Avenue, where Mel had another Sherlockgasm over the Sherlock Holmes pub. We considered going in for a snack but found nothing tasty and vegetarian on the menu and were a little too cheap to go in just for a coke. So we pushed on and had dinner from Subway before retiring to our hotel for a super early night in because we had to get up again at two in the morning. Early flights will be the death of me.

Again, to our horror, the fire alarm went off thirty minutes after we got to our room. And again, we got a different excuse. After Mel gave them a piece of her mind, though, all was quiet and we could sleep for a while, an hour in my case.

The trip back to the airport was straight from a horror movie because we had to catch two night buses but the stop for one of them had been shown in the wrong place on the map and by the time we found the right now, we had missed the last bus. With only twenty minutes left until we had to get to our airport shuttle, we finally decided to take a cab. An excellent decision because the cabby was the nicest old-ish guy I’ve ever met. He was so calm and sweet and helped us find the right place so calmly even though we must have confused the crap out of him. Thanks to his efforts, we made it just in time. Well, we did but our shuttle didn’t. It just wouldn’t come and when the next one on the schedule arrived, I halfway expected them to tell us there was no space for us. But again, we were lucky and had a super nice driver who instantly apologized and knew there’d been a problem with the previous shuttle, so we were finally on our way to the airport where, again, we arrived only just in time for the gate to open. Apparently, luck was on our side! But can I just say: Stansted, WTF? Your departure area is more of a mall than any of our actual malls! A MAC Store? Really? I was so glad London had left me broke and out of time or I would have found death of shopping right there.

So yeah, after a surprisingly short flight (two pages read, a quick nap and ta-da, we’ve arrived!), we landed back in cold and nasty Germany where we were greeted with a round of ice-scratching and by a bunch of insane drivers on the highway. But alas, it was a very, very, very fun trip that had its little hiccups and accidents but for the most part was so good, showed me another side of London and also happened to be my very first trip with a very dear friend.

So this tale of our little adventure has to end but let me finish with our first picture together (well, one of them!) that I rambled about previously…

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

2014 – A Retrospective

In previous years, I spent the last few days of December thinking about what I wanted to achieve in the next year while simultaneously crying about all the goals I hadn’t achieved. I think that’s pretty much what everyone does and new year’s resolutions are a perfectly common thing. But it also feels like you’re already starting a new year on a bad note, setting yourself up for failure. No matter how often we tell ourselves that they’re no actual goals, just guidelines and rough drafts, we end up thinking of them as some kind of milestone or goal post anyway. And let’s face it, 365 days are a long time. A lot of things can happen. Most of the time, we aren’t even able to tell what tomorrow is gonna be like and yet, we make these resolutions as if the only factor in reaching our goals was us. And even if that was the case, we may change along the way. Our perspectives could change, we may change our directions, there may be a perfectly fine reason why we didn’t go for that thirty pound loss anymore, or that change of jobs, or why we’re still single, and yet, we feel like we’ve failed.

For 2015, I don’t want to do that. I don’t even want to think of what I didn’t achieve in 2014 or all the bad things that happened. 2014 was a bad year for me, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’ll have to spend the last day of the year dwelling on that. The good thing about having had a bad year is that for the next, the only way is up.

What I do want to do, though, is remember the good things, the nice moments and things, the highlights, however few there may be.

Good Things That Happened in 2014:

  • I am fine, my mom is fine. After all the health issues this year, this is something that deserves to be celebrated. I daresay we’re even doing better than before. Especially my mom is filled with more energy than I expected from her.
  • I got a new car. I don’t think I mention it often enough but I love, love, love little Bruce. Not only because it’s finally a black car and I love driving it but also because it’s the first car I ever bought (well, financed) myself. My first two cars were paid for by my grandpa, the third I did buy myself but my mom brought in her own car which she didn’t want anymore and that exchange took a huge chunk out of the total price. So this is the first time I actually got one for myself and that only makes it extra special and I’m proud of my little Dark Knight.
  • I went to not many but great concerts this year. The highlight being, in absence of any AFI shows, of course, Taking Back Sunday.
  • New opportunities. I started a new project at work and also something bigger in my personal life. None of which have led to anything big so far but they’re fun, they’re new challenges and help break the routine a little.

Favorite Songs of the Year


Favorite Books I Read This Year

Favorite Movies of the Year

Things to Look Forward to in 2015:

  • London with Mel in January. Four days in my favorite city with one of my favorite people. I don’t know how often we talked about going on a trip together. And it seems insane that we never made it to any proper day trip but managed to book a whole city trip together. But I’m so looking forward to it. It’s the first time I’m not only in the city with someone else than my mom (who is great company but slow and not very interested in a lot of things) and it’s not part of an AFI tour. Because that always took such a large chunk out of our time and people I went with rarely showed much interest in sightseeing, after over fifteen years of visiting London every year, there’s still so much I haven’t done and seen and Mel and I have already put so many of them on our list. Excited much?!
  • Mallorca with my mom in May. Not even half a year left until I’ll be back on the beautiful island I lost my heart to two years ago. We even booked the same hotel. I always feel a little bad going to a vacation spot twice, and even to the same hotel. There’s so much of the world left to discover! But Mallorca is so beautiful and there’s still so much I haven’t seen or didn’t have enough time to enjoy. We got so little time in Sollér last time and also didn’t make the best of Palma. I’m excited to go back. And hotels…well, there are so many bad hotels out there, why not take advantage when you found one that makes you feel at home?
  • So.many.awesome.movies. 2015 will be one of the greatest years, movie-wise. I should just rent a spot in our local cinema and be done with it. Just a few I can think of right now: Big Hero 6, Into the Woods (won’t be out here before next year), Minions, Cinderella, Mockingjay Pt. 2, Jurassic World
Categories: Bookworm, Me Myself and I, Movies, Music is my boyfriend, Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up to No Good

Happy Holidays! I hope whoever reads this is having a wonderful and peaceful time, no matter how and who you spend it with, whether you celebrate Christmas or whether “your” holidays happened already.

Anyway, as the year draws to an end, I find my calendar a lot fuller than it was all year round. I’ve had time off since Friday and, which I enjoyed very much, found myself spontaneously meeting friends for coffee and shopping. I’m not a very spontaneous person, usually, but whenever it happens, I realise how much it can improve your day if you add some nice company to it. Of course, it’s way easier when neither of us has to work that day.

Today, however, I and my mother got up way too early (a 7 AM rise is not how I usually spend my time off work!) and went on our way to Cologne. It’s about forty minutes from here and one of the biggest towns in our area, so going there the day before Christmas Eve is a completely new level of insanity. But we went for a good reason. We had tickets to see the Harry Potter Exhibition. Admittedly, it’s been on since October and will stay until March, so we didn’t have to go today. But when we talked about it, we quickly came to the conclusion that it was the only day we both had a day off together. So really, whatever, there are worse ways to spend the last days of the year, right?

We had tickets for 10:30 but arrived way too early. Luckily, there was a McDonald’s next door. We went with the plan to get breakfast but everything already smelled so oily and they didn’t have any baked goods that weren’t cake, so we only had some coffee. When we got to the Odysseum, we were still twenty minutes early but they already let us in.

The whole thing starts with what’s my personal horror, part show – part interaction, with an actress leading visitors through the Sorting Hat Procedure. It turned out very fun, though, even though I was glad that not everyone had to do it. My social anxiety would have been ablaze if I’d had to sit in front of a group of strangers. But the people who did it was fun and there was one older woman who was a total Harry Potter fangirl, it was adorable. She ended up in Hufflepuff, as she’d wanted. Between you and me, I’m pretty sure the Sorting Hat really listened to people’s wishes. 😉 Also, the actress seemed so much like a slightly older version of Hermione, it was almost creepy.

After that, we were led into a room with several screens that showed scenes from the movies and I’m pretty sure that everyone started thinking that it was lame, but right then one of the walls was pulled back and it felt like you were stepping right into Hogwarts, it was awesome!

After that, I felt like a kid in a candy store, except that I couldn’t eat – or touch – anything. I suppose you could walk through these rooms and feel like in a museum. Cool stuff, a lot to see, but no real connection. But if you look at the costumes and the little bits and pieces and really think about that they were worn and touched by the people you’ve seen on the screen hundreds of times, that they appeared right there in those movies that were such a big part of your life…that’s really impressive. I mean, Harry Potter is up there with other classics by now. Everyone knows it. There are small things, like the font of the logo, the melody of the intro…and you immediately think of Harry Potter, whether you really liked it or not. And then you’re standing in front of an outfit that is basically just clothes that could have been bought by anyone from the H&M around the corner but you know what it was worn in the very movie you only just watched a couple days ago – for the millionth time. And that’s just awesome! Oh god, I sound like such a fangirl, I’m sorry. I’m not even one of those people who’ll break into random fangirling at all times. I don’t have a lot of memorabilia from my favorite books or movies. But things like that really get me going. When they were showing the scenes from the movies and the theme started playing, I actually teared up. I felt like a total tool.

They showed a lot of the things you’d expect to see. Harry’s school and Quidditch uniforms, Ron’s hideous festive clothes, Hermione’s ball gown, the Deathly Hallows, the Horcruxes, that kind of thing. But also a lot of things you didn’t expect some you even only remembered when you saw them, like all the freaky things Luna possesses and wears, or the death statue from the graveyard scene. Most of the things were just exhibited and you weren’t allowed to touch them or even get too close, understandably so, but there were also some interactive parts like a “Quidditch field” or the mandrakes. My god, did I love those! They had set up a little field of mandrakes with signs urging you on to pull one up and yes, they actually screamed when you did it. Hur hur, that’s exactly right for Kathy! And another guy who was also very fascinated. My mom kept telling me not to do it (“Don’t! Don’t! DON’T!”) but there really was some magic possessing me, I swear.

What wasn’t so fascinating but equally hard to resist was the souvenir store. There was a lot of overpriced stuff, of course, that was mostly just merchandise that had nothing to do with the books or the movies at all. But they also had some really nice souvenirs like most of the magic wands (I so, so, so want Narcissa Malfoy’s!) or the Marauder’s Map. And I know mugs are some of the lamest pieces of merch ever but they had a really cute one that said “Dobby Is A Free Elf”. Aww! I don’t know how I did it but I went out of there without buying a single piece. Admittedly, the prices were crazy but that’s never stopped me before. I think I was mostly just overwhelmed by the possibilities. There was just so much.

The walk through the exhibition took about one and a half hours because we took our time, listening to the audio guide and remembering our favorite scenes. I suppose you could walk through it within thirty minutes or less if you just had a quick look but why would you do that if you paid so much money for the ticket?

Afterwards, we were both so tired but decided that, what the hell, we had come all the way to Cologne, so we could as well make the best of it. So we drove into town and parked by the lovely, lovely Heumarkt, a part of the old town. I’m not a Christmas fair kinda girl but the one there is so cute. They have these pretty wooden huts that are a lot more detailed than others and also add some cute decoration with Christmas gnomes. We were starving and cold, though, so we had dinner first. We wanted to eat at a more traditional place, like a brewery or a pub but none were open, so we ended up at Maredo, a steakhouse chain. The food was fine as usual but I’ve kind of gone off all these chains because there’s so much more to discover and they’re always the same. But the alternative would have been to eat something on the Christmas fair and it was so windy and nasty, we didn’t want to do that.

After lunch, we walked along the main shopping street. There were a lot of things I wanted to look for, my Agent Provocateur perfume, the Harry Potter books with the new covers (they had no books at the exhibition!), more clothes from H&M…but I found neither. My mom finally bought the perfume she’d been lusting after for two (!) years, probably because I guilt tripped her. I mean, I wanted to buy mine but couldn’t and she was about to pass up on yet another chance after complaining to me that she couldn’t find it previously? Not gonna happen! I ended up not buying much, only a couple things from the English Shop. It sells British foods, books and magazine and I was ecstatic to find they sell the Oat So Simple instant porridge pots. I could bathe in those! So I picked a few up, as well as a can of Diet Cherry Coke. Dear Coca-Cola, it’s totally time to start selling this here. A bit of a poor loot for a whole day in Cologne but probably for the best, so close to Christmas and another trip to London.

By the time we got back home, it was after five and I think it’s safe to say that it’s a miracle that I’m still up. The early rise, the excitement of the exhibition, the walk through town…I’m exhausted! But happy. It was a good day.

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, I can only recommend visiting the exhibition. It seems pricey but it’s so worth it and I guarantee it will leave you with a smile on your face! What follows may seem like a lot of pictures but they’re only just a tiny part of all there is to see and it’s so much more impressive when you’re there in person. My phone camera couldn’t possibly capture the magic! Click here if you want to learn more about it and buy tickets for the exhibition.

Categories: Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Magic Kingdom

I thought long and hard whether I was gonna blog about this year’s trip to London. Because, honestly, we didn’t do much. With my mom still being on the sick and slow side and me on the ‘OMG, OMG, OMG, she’s gonna pass out again!’ one, things were veeeerrrry slow. Also, the traffic was a lot worse than it has been in previous years and we got stuck a lot, so we weren’t actually in the West End before noon. Well, huh.

You guys know I love London. If a fairy appeared before me and said I could move to London but I would have to go now without goodbye, I would. But hands down, this year’s highlight wasn’t the city, it was the hotel. Normally, we stay in average business chain hotels, Holiday Inn Express, Ibis, that sort of thing. But this year, for some magical reason, we were booked into the amazing (!) Aloft London Excel. At first, we were doubtful. It’s way outside the city center and you actually have to switch from the tube to the DLR to get there. I have a love-hate relationship with the DLR, learning more towards hate. The last time I had to get on one of their trains, it only arrived once per hour and I almost missed the one I was supposed to take. Which was due to bad planning on my side, granted. But their stations are also pretty much deserted, you rarely find a staff member or a proper information desk or even just some stupid info board. This year, the line we needed had frequent service but due to some wrong information, we got off at the wrong station and, you got it, there was no one we could ask. I didn’t know London actually had areas where you wouldn’t pass a single soul for more than ten minutes but naturally, we found one. But anyway, the hotel was so worth it. It’s a hotel chain, too, sure but it didn’t have any of that average just-good-enough air. The outside was beautiful, with a shimmering front that looked a bit like a mermaid’s flipper, shimmering in different colors depending on light exposure. The lobby was so stylish, I felt underdressed. It had a lot of lounge areas, a huge bar and even cute little details like a sleep and water spot for dogs. And the rooms, oh my god, the rooms! If you’ve ever been inside a hotel room in London, you’ll know how tiny and cramped they can be, even with quite expensive hotels. Great Britain is a small country, London is a comparably small city and space is luxury, so you don’t really expect a ballroom when booking a hotel room. But the Aloft rooms are just that huge. We had a twin room and there was so much space, it actually had two (!) desks and then there was still so much space around the beds that we could have waltzed in there. Also, our room was on the seventh floor and the beds were facing the windows, so you can enjoy a wonderful view over the city right from your bed. It was amazing and I wanted to move in there.

Other than enjoying the hotel, we didn’t do all that much. Not much more than shop. I also finally got to see what’s supposed to be the oldest Starbucks in…England? Europe? I don’t know. But it’s also set in a nice old building off Regent Street and you feel as if you were in a 19th century café rather than an international coffeehouse. They had the most gorgeous bathrooms with their own wallpaper pattern design that looked vintage but upon closer inspection, you’d see that it said Starbucks and Seattle on it.

I went a little wild inside House of Fraser where I only meant to buy Urban Decay’s Primer Potion but ended up buying that, another eye shadow for my palette and a make up setting spray that I technically don’t really need but always wanted to try and hey, who cares if I just blew twenty pound on it? I also didn’t get my favorite perfume, Agent Provocateur’s Maitresse that I fangirled about in great detail in my post about last year’s trip to London. It’s a shame because it seems impossible to get here, too. So I’m ashamed to say I got a bit reckless with my shopping and bought several nail polishes and a new bag. Can I just say that it is unfair that England has such great drugstore brands? I mean, we have Catrice and P2 which are also quite decent. But they’re nothing compared to Rimmel or Barry M! They had so many matte nail polishes and I could have bought them all. Instead, I settled for a dark blue and a blood read one, thinking I was such a smart shopper…and then I hit the basement of the huge Boots on Oxford Street and went wild buying shampoo and Carmex and I don’t even know what else. I also really need to complain about Germany’s aversion to Carmex. It’s become really hard to get here. I heard some places took it off their shelves because there were rumors about some fishy ingredients but I don’t know. I’m a buyer and I don’t care. So there’s only one place that I know that still carries it. And then you walk into any old Boots or Superdrug or even just Sainsbury’s and there it is. And not just the pots or the tubes, either, but both and a bunch of different scents. I picked up the mint one, just because it was there.

When we returned to our hotel, we witnessed a little crazy scene. When we tried to exit the DLR station, several police officers were gathered around a girl who had curled up on the ground. At first they wouldn’t let us through but then realised they couldn’t just tell a bunch of people to take the train to another station. Still, they made us wait for a while. I have no idea what happened but suddenly a bunch of people spoke up who were apparently involved with the whole thing and it looked like some real drama. My personal guess is that it had something to do with the Britain’s Got Talent casting that was going on in the convention center right next to our hotel. Maybe the lady didn’t accept that nope, she wasn’t gonna be the next Lady Gaga.

So yeah, that’s it. As I said, not much to tell this year. What I absolutely loved, though, was the Selfridges Christmas decoration, so I went a little crazy trying – and failing – to get the perfect picture. Normally, I find their decoration a bit tacky but this year, it looked amazing.

Categories: Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Books & Food & Rock ‘N’ Roll

Last weekend I took a little timeout from the pile of crap that 2014 has presented me with so far and drove to Frankfurt to meet a friend of mine and spend the weekend doing what we do. Which is so to say shop, listen to music, eat, visit the book fair and get tattooed.

I left work early on Friday and had to take an unplanned quick stop at home because – what a coincidence! – my mom had been admitted to hospital again on Thursday. This time it’s another hospital and it’s more of a ‘better safe than sorry’ thing and she’s feeling fine. But it was still bad timing because she was meant to take care of my cats. I had to get home and clean my place a little bit before I left, so my neighbor, who had kindly agreed to be the cat sitter, wouldn’t die of a shock.

The drive to Frankfurt went surprisingly well. I gotta say I love taking roadtrips by myself. I also like taking them with (the right) people but driving by myself has its own perks. No quarreling over who gets to choose the next song. No multiple stops at every other rest stop because someone always has to pee, needs a snack and plainly wants to stretch their legs. And you get lots of thinking and planning to do in your mind. One of these days I’m probably trying to set up Siri so I can make notes while driving. I had so many good ideas for this project I’m working on but it’s hard to remember them all. I also got a lot of really, really bad singing done. I never sing along to music with people around – don’t ask me why! – but when I’m alone in the car, I give it my all, no kidding. Anyway, surprisingly, I only got stuck in traffic once, for about thirty minutes, the rest went so smoothly, I arrived early enough to freshen up at the hotel. The hotel wasn’t anything special, but nice and clean and I loved the design of everything. A lot of blue and beige and a modern design. The only thing that left us puzzled was the sink that was right in the room instead of in the bathroom. Admittedly, there was already little space in there anyway but still!

The first thing we did on Friday night was head to a tattoo appointment we’d scheduled to get our shared tattoo. It’s half friendship tattoo, half John Green appreciation and I love it. “Okay?” – “Okay.” is something that Hazel Grace and Augustus say on the phone continuously. It’s their thing, a way to reassure and comfort each other. It’s one of the things that screamed ‘friendship’ to me about this book, so it was only right that my oldest friend and I got those, especially since we’re both so in love with John Green’s writing. I got it on my lower arm, just below the elbow. In the picture, mine’s below, the one with the question mark. So far it’s the most painful tattoo I got, even my foot and the spine area were easier to handle. Maybe I’m getting more sensitive with age, I don’t know. I also bled a lot more than my friend. Body, WTF u doin’? Anyway, we got it done at a very cute studio by a very nice and lovely little lady. She had pictures of her work all over the place, as tattoo artists do, and she does a lot of Tim Burton stuff, too. I wanted her to ink me all over!

After we got our ink done, it was time for food. I know it isn’t smart but I never like to eat before a tattoo appointment. I mean, I drink sugary stuff, so low blood sugar won’t be an issue but I don’t like a full stomach while I’m supposed to sit still. So I was ravenous. We ended up at the cutest burger joint I’ve ever seen. It’s called Bully’s Burgers or something like that and their mascot is a little French bulldog. They have pictures of it in different poses and memes all over the place. So adorable! It’s also tiny and we were lucky to get the last table. They pretty much offer only burgers in different variations. I had a Spanish burger with chorizo and ordered sweet potato fries and guacamole dip on the side. The burger was alright, though I wasn’t crazy about the chorizo but the fries were amazing. I kept eating even when I was full.

The next day was dedicated to shopping, shopping and shopping with a side of excessive eating. We drove into town where we’d been told we’d find a place that sells Urban Decay (which, shockingly, we weren’t able to buy in Germany yet). When we got there, though, we were told that we were one week too early. Noooo! So, we had to compensate this shock by spending our cash elsewhere. We raided Primark and then moved on to H&M. It sounds stupid because you can find H&M anywhere but the one in Frankfurt is the only one that also has a Home department. I spent way too much money there but who can pass up a shower curtain with little skulls on them? Or a pillow case with a circus monkey on it? Right?

Otherwise, the city center didn’t really have a lot to offer, so we moved on to the Skyline Plaza, a mall that apparently had a great view of the skyline. This proved to be only half true because it was way too central to over a full view but the roof garden was still great. They had little patches of green up there and also a restaurant with a terrace. Overall, I can’t say that I was disappointed with it. The weather sucked a bit but the sky scrapers still looked pretty cool against the background of the huge clouds.

The mall itself was less spectacular. You got the usual chain stores, some fast food places, nothing surprising. Except that Zara also had a Home store there. I bought two glasses with skulls on them but otherwise found the stuff there too expensive for what it had to offer. Most of the things I bought in that mall, I could have found here as well. Shopping was still fun because I got to do it with a good friend and because it’s always more fun when you do it on a day off and with nothing else on your schedule but I had hoped to find more interesting shops in a big city like that.

Originally, we had planned to go see a movie but then the waiter in the rooftop restaurant messed up our order, so dinner took ages and we couldn’t really agree on anything we wanted to see or hadn’t seen yet, so we went back to the hotel after dinner. My friend showed me the road movie she and her friend took of their last vacation and we just caught up with each other’s lives over a good old round of crappy television. Not exactly a ‘party hard’ kind of night but we had a long day ahead of us on Sunday, so getting some sleep wasn’t such a bad idea.

The next day, we went to the book fair. What a disappointment! I’d been there two years ago and it was pretty cool. This year, we bored ourselves through the fair with nothing to do and nothing to see. None of our favorite authors were there and even though we’d planned to just let it surprise us, we ended up never even finding our way to anything that was going on. The map of the place wasn’t clear on anything and it was so crowded that we were just pushed around all the time. Last time I went, it was a Saturday and less crowded, probably because you can only buy books on the Sunday. This time around, it was like the whole country had decided to come to the fair. And they all brought their tiny kids or came in elaborate cosplay costumes that were great to look at but let’s face it, a huge ball gown or some kind of warrior costume with huge spikes all over the place aren’t really ideal to move smoothly through the masses. Not to mention that every few steps, someone showed up in a really cool costumes and people would stop in the middle of everywhere to take a picture. It’s shocking, I know, but I ended up not buying a single book. I simply couldn’t concentrate for long enough to really read a single sentence, let alone decide if it sounded interesting enough for me to buy the book. So I just took a lot of notes about books I may want to read eventually. The only thing I took away from the fair was a postcard that I felt summed up the weekend quite nicely.

When we left the fair – and paid half a lung for parking – it was time for my friend to get to the train station. We arrived with enough time to have a quick snack together. Again, the waiter forgot my order – boo! – but eventually, it arrived anyway. I had lovely apple strudel with cream. Gotta treat yourself, right? I really haven’t made smart food choices this weekend but considering that I didn’t eat much but walked a lot, it was still okay. And the strudel was so worth it. So, so worth it. I mean, come on, it had marzipan in it. Marzipan! Plus, I went to get a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks for the way home and they didn’t have any. It was the first Starbucks I’ve seen that had pumpkins all over the place and pretty much forced you to order a damn PSL…and they didn’t have any left. What the…?! I’d say food-wise, I wasn’t really lucky in Frankfurt.

Overall, it was a good weekend. Not ideal and some things went wrong or were a little disappointing. But I got to see my friend again, we got to catch up, there was new ink involved, we did some satisfying shopping…and the food was great, once it actually got to me. And since I didn’t get to go to Vienna, at least I got to see Frankfurt this year. That’s a little something at least.

 

Categories: Bookworm, Foody, Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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