travel

A Weekend in Berlin

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As I mentioned on Sunday, I was in Berlin over the weekend for an all-too-brief visit. I flew in early Saturday morning and left midday Monday and felt like I saw only a tiny fraction of what I wanted to see. That being said, I did cover a lot of ground for what was basically 48 hours and wanted to share the highlights with you.

Obviously above we have the Brandenburger Tor, which is actually the closest I ever got to West Berlin (other than riding the bus through it en route to/from Tegel Airport). When you spend a lot of time in Paris, I think you fall victim to something I’ll call the Triomphe Effect; the afflicted lose all sense of scale when it comes to arches and gates because the Arc de Triomphe is so huge. To me, the Washington Square Park arch in New York now seems laughably tiny and when I visited the Tor in Berlin, I was also surprised by its size. In my head it was much larger — and less cluttered with inebriated Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München fans who nobly took it upon themselves to prepare for the 20h Germany Cup final from the early morning hours (I’m happy to report that BM won, as my childhood Germany stints took place in Bayern). Despite the Triomphe Effect and the football horde, the historical symbolism of the Tor is still palpable. (more…)

Read Up: Berlin Blogs

Berlin Blogs

As I mentioned on Sunday, I’m heading to Berlin this weekend for a quick visit. I’ve never been to Berlin before, so I’ve been consulting my friends, speed-reading travel guides in bookstores, and of course browsing Berlin’s corner of the internet. During the course of my research, I’ve stumbled across some fantastic Berlin-based blogs that I wanted to share with all of you. Some of them are literally about the things to do, see, and eat in Berlin, but some are just lovely blogs that capture that Berlin je ne sais quoi. So whether you are planning a trip to Germany’s trendiest city or not, these links are worth a click. Bonus: they are all written in English.

Stil in Berlin is run primarily by Mary Sherpe, a contributing writer and photographer for Vogue Germany, and has a little bit of everything. Shopping, eating, and sightseeing guides (I found this blog while searching for Berlin coffee spots), art reviews, street fashion, and more. The photography and design is beautiful and it’s been the perfect starting point for my research. If you’re heading to Berlin, I recommend checking out the many guides on the website. Even if you aren’t, a quick browse through this blog (although it won’t be quick — I get sucked in and read page after page) will give you a lovely glimpse of the city.

I was immediately drawn to Berlin Reified‘s title — who wouldn’t be? It’s creator is Sylee Gore, who was born in Mumbai and grew up in the United States before moving to Berlin in 2000. The blog is a perfect mix of Berlin recommendations and beautiful lifestyle photos. Each post reads like a mini personal essay that includes a bit of Sylee’s life and an interesting Berlin spot or two. This blog makes for a wonderful read no matter where you are.

Überlin‘s creators, Zoë and James, packed up their London life several years ago and moved to Berlin (Randomly picking up and moving to another country? Sounds like something I’d do…), where they now maintain a gorgeous blog. Überlin also has a little bit of everything for all kinds of readers. Some posts are Berlin-specific, like their food and drink section or their recommendations for things to do around the city. Other posts will appeal to everyone, like “Music Mondays” and their thoughts on living an expat life. And with archives going back to 2010, it’s easy to spend an afternoon reading post after post.

I can feel a Best Wishes from Berlin addiction coming on. Jessica Jungbauer started Best Wishes in 2010 to document the lives of creative people living in Berlin. It’s now a magazine as well and there are Best Wishes from Amsterdam, Oslo, London, San Francisco, Melbourne, and Minneapolis. The short profiles on the website include recommendations for places to go and things to see in Berlin, but it’s also fascinating to learn about all these creative people and the projects on which they are currently working. Some of the subjects are expats living in Berlin and I love discovering which expat experiences we have in common and which are specific to Paris/Berlin.

Unlike Berlin City Guide is definitely oriented towards people living in or visiting Berlin, as it has comprehensive coverage of restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries, hotels, and other adventures (Unlike covers a host of other cities all over the world as well). It’s a bit overwhelming if you are like me and don’t know the city at all, but the great photographs and seemingly endless supply of information make it a great trip-planning resource. In fact, this website alone makes me wish I were going for much longer!

I hope this was interesting for you, even if Germany isn’t on your horizon. The first four of these websites have permanent spots in my RSS reader (Unlike Berlin is safely stowed in my “Berlin” Evernote folder in case I ever go back and need more tour guide-like information again). I’m even more excited for my Berlin getaway after scrolling through these blogs. Do you have any Berlin recommendations (online or in real life)?

Loire Valley #5: On the way home

A few weeks ago, I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (last one!). Hope you enjoy!

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We’re finally at the end of the trip.

I. Tours Cathedral

Tours is the biggest city in the part of the Valley where we were staying and while we didn’t spend much time there, we did pop into town to see the cathedral. It’s not as big as Chartres, but it’s still quite impressive. Tours also took almost 400 years to build, compared to Chartres’s 55 years, to put Chartres in perspective. As a result, there are many different architectural styles visible in the building. Obviously the dominant style is Gothic, but some of the buttresses are Romanesque and the tops of the towers are early Renaissance.  (more…)

Loire Valley #4: Loches and Montresor

Last week I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (don’t worry — I’m not posting 100 photos a day!). Hope you enjoy!

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We’re back to the châteaux today with two of my favorite stops: Loches and Montrésor.

I. Loches

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Loches is probably best known as the favorite home of Agnès Sorel, favorite mistress of King Charles VII and Medieval power woman. She died of mercury poisoning (it’s still unknown if it was a murder or an accidental poison — she was taking mercury for a number of health conditions she had) when she was just 27 years old, but she spent her life encouraging Charles VII to become a more active French leader, attending court, and having three children with the king, all of whom he took care of after her death. Her remains have been abused and moved around a lot in the past 500 years, but they are finally back where she wanted them to be, in the St. Ours church at Loches. (more…)

Loire Valley #3: Fauna and Fungi

Last week I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (don’t worry — I’m not posting 100 photos a day!). Hope you enjoy!

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As I continue to bombard you with Loire Valley recaps, I thought we’d take a break from the châteaux in favor of some animals and mushrooms.

I. Zooparc de Beauval

Anyone who knows me also knows that I love zoos. I know I’m not supposed to, or that at the very least I’m supposed to be extremely skeptical of wild animals kept in enclosures for our viewing pleasure, but I can’t help it. So I was very pleased to discover that France’s largest zoo was a mere 20 minutes away from our little moulin. (more…)

Loire Valley #2: The Châteaux Spectrum

Last week I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (don’t worry — I’m not posting 100 photos a day!). Hope you enjoy!

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I. Cheverny

I told you last time that symmetry would make a comeback, and so, behold: Cheverny, the perfectly symmetrical château. Just take a moment to appreciate how pleasing it is. The inside of the château was very pleasing as well; it felt almost British in style, with many rooms decorated in late-18th/early19th century style. It’s also quite famous as the inspiration for Château de Moulinsart, the fictional residence in Hergé’s Tintin books. It is only surprising to me that Cheverny’s exquisite symmetry hasn’t been the inspiration for many more fictional homes.

Cheverny has a long history of hunting and still keeps a kennel of some fifty hounds. It might have been the rain that day, but they were some of the saddest dogs I have ever seen. They looked perfectly healthy, but also kind of sad and bored. Is that just the life of a hunting dog? (more…)

Loire Valley #1: From Here to There

Last week I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (don’t worry — I’m not posting 100 photos a day!). Hope you enjoy!

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An inalienable right of any city-dweller is getting to say, “It’s so nice to get out of the city” every once in a while.  As much as I enjoy my urban homes on both sides of the Atlantic, quality time with the countryside allows me to appreciate both environments more clearly and more deeply. So while I love Paris, I was also happy to leave it for a short time to soak up the joys of the springtime Loire Valley.

I. Chartres

As you can see from the photo above, we made a quick stop at Chartres on our way out of Paris, a must-see for any gothic cathedral enthusiast. It’s considered one of the — if not the — best examples of gothic architecture; it’s hard to believe that it was constructed in just 55 years when so many other architecturally inferior cathedrals took centuries to build (although to be fair, that was often a funding issue). I’m not religious myself, but I can imagine entering the cathedral in the 13th century and being completely in awe of the church’s power. (more…)

Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie

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When I was six years old and living in Bavaria, my parents took me to Vienna for a short trip while my dad gave a talk at a university. I have a number of vivid memories from this trip — including a traumatic episode in which I didn’t want to eat a crab cake because my tooth was about to fall out and I was afraid to chew anything — but my favorite was the Naturhistorisches Museum. I have no idea if the museum is still like this, but at the time it was itself a specimen of the Victorian period: room after room of vitrines and dioramas containing perpendicularly arranged fossils, minerals, and taxidermy animals, labeled by Latin name in ornate calligraphy on yellowed cards. There were no interactive displays or animatronic dinosaurs, but I loved it. I remember my mom lifting me up so I could look into the rock and mineral cases and being mesmerized by the orderly, endless rows of information. In many ways, I never want to go back to the real Naturhistorisches Museum in case it has changed or, as is more likely, in case my memory is selectively exaggerating and erasing parts of the museum.

When I shared this memory with my friend and Paris native Laurène she said we had to go to the Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie. Located in the 5th arrondissement, the gallery is actually part of a pretty little complex of buildings, gardens, and a small zoo that collectively form Paris’s Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. Laurène said that this particular building had a similar Victorian sensibility, and so we made plans to go together. (more…)

Musée Rodin

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Yesterday I ended up at the Musée Rodin by accident. I took the Metro to Champs-Élysées Clemenceau and climbed out without a plan in mind; it was quite warm yesterday so I thought I might sit by the Seine and read or write. By the time I surfaced it was quite overcast and none of the river perches caught my fancy so I kept walking. Two white-haired German men paused in front of me by the Passerelle de Solférino to consult their travel guide and, seized with this sudden inspiration to render myself a tourist, I crossed the river to go visit Le Penseur.

I should add that I know basically nothing about either Rodin or sculpture, but I did remember the scenes from the museum in Midnight in Paris and it seemed like a pretty place to pass a Wednesday afternoon (is this an embarrassing cultural reference?). I was not wrong. The Paris museum consists of a small indoor collection in the Hôtel Biron, an early 18th century townhouse in which Rodin lived for many years, and a gorgeous garden full of sculpture, including Rodin’s most famous thinking man.  (more…)

Looking through Lenses

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I’ve been in Paris for two and a half months now, and I am ashamed to admit that I have already felt the force of habit creeping into and obscuring my vision. The first two weeks I was here, every moment I spent outside was full of amazing things to see. Even something as mundane as the grocery store was packed with interesting details; I wanted to look at every single product and label. I was never afraid of whipping my camera out to photograph something I found beautiful or fascinating or funny, which covered pretty much everything I saw.

But of course, this doesn’t last. Even the flakiest people have habits, and the force of habit is a strong one: “We commonly live with a self reduced to its bare minimum; most of our faculties lie dormant, relying on habit; and habit knows how to manage without them” (Proust, 235). I have a Paris routine now, full of places I like to go, foods I like to buy, restaurants I like to frequent, and so on. Slowly the details that charmed me at the beginning are becoming invisible to me. Somewhat symbolically, I don’t take my camera with me as much anymore because it’s heavy and bulky; I no longer look at Paris through the same lens. (more…)