Margareten Vienna

Exploring Vienna, Austria

Last year at the Fearless Conference in Europe, I met a number of wonderful people who I shared many meals and glasses of wine over while sharing travel stories, inspiration and laughter.  One of them, Christian Cardona, convinced me that I absolutely had to go to Colombia, because it was the “gem of South America.”  It is.  The others, Marie and Michael, convinced me that I had to come to Vienna, because it was charming and one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe.  I wasted no time adding both recommendations to my list and crossing them both off within a year.  When Fearless Photographers announced that their annual European conference was to be held in Budapest, it only made sense to tack on Vienna for a few extra days of exploration.  It’s an easy, comfortable, and inexpensive train ride from Budapest and the my friends and I would have some built in tour guides in Marie and Michael.

Vienna itself is a beautiful, albeit strange mix, of Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-Classical architecture.  Some of the buildings are grand, palatial and sweeping, while others are squeezed into smaller spaces and tight turning pedestrian only streets.  After World War II, Vienna spent a significant amount of money and funds restoring their buildings to their pre-war grandeur.  The result is something that feels drastically and dramatically different than the rest of Europe: a strange mix of new modern that feels like it has one foot in the past and one far in the future.

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STAY: We stayed in Margareten, otherwise known as the Fifth District, which offers typical Viennese architecture and a bohemian vibe.  We also considered Mariahilf, but after wandering for a brief moment down the busy tourist uninspiring high street of Mariahilfastrasse, I have to say that I was quite happy with our choice and would make the same one again.

EAT: 

  • It isn’t a trip to Vienna without consuming wiener schnitzel, a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from veal.  Known as one of the national dishes of Austria, it’s incredibly delicious.  After wandering around Vienna and viewing St. Stephen’s Cathedral, take a break in the famous rooms of Figlmüller, which has been helmed by the Figlmüller family for four generations now.  The schnitzel is crispy and surprising: although one is enough to share between two people, you can be assured that it will get devoured in no time!
  • The Vienna Naschmarkt is perfect for exploring, dining and drinking.  The bustling mile long market offers food stalls and small outdoor cafes to explore and while away the afternoon in.
  • Start one of your days off with a traditional brunch at Burg.Ring 1 before heading off to explore.  The interior is an eclectic mix of bric-a-brac and vintage furniture and you can elect to add quite the buffet spread of fruits, yogurts, vegetables, cheese and a gorgeous selection of Viennese pastries, treats, and breads to any weekend breakfast entree.
  • We spent hours over tapas and wine at Lola, a Spanish Tapas bar where you can get your menu in German, English or Spanish.  The staff also spoke all three languages.
  • The coffee house culture of Vienna is so integral to the city’s social fabric that it was declared an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO.  After wandering the city center, relax and enjoy live music, a “sweet treat” from their in house patisserie, coffee and conversation at the infamous Cafe Central.  The cafe claims to be Vienna’s most famous cafe, but can truthfully and honestly boast that it served the likes of Trotsky, Freud, and writers and poets on a daily basis.

DRINK:

  • Motto in Margareten was a hidden gem of jazz and darkness.  Don’t skip a visit to the bathrooms, which are uniquely and perhaps confusingly different than the restaurant and bar space themselves.  The cocktail and wine list is outstanding.
  • I totally goofed and didn’t plan ahead, but if I’d been on it, I would have booked us on the Vienna Wine Walk, a guided walking wine tour with a master sommelier who takes you on a tour that introduces you to both the wines of Austria and to some of their favorite neighborhood drinking holes.

EXPLORE

  • Take a walking tour of historic Vienna on the Ringstrasse: after having a traditional Viennese brunch at Burg.Ring 1, walk down to start your exploration in the Museum Quarter, where you’ll find the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) and the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer), both overlooking the Maria-Theresien-Platz.   Alternatively, hop on the RingTram, which departs on a lap of the Ringstrasse every 30 minutes from the Schwedenplatz.  The interior of the historic city center, surrounded by the Ringstrasse,
  • Go to the opera!  Vienna was Mozart’s hometown and the opera is an important part of their culture.  While some performances sell out in advance (we secured tickets to Faust ahead of time), you can also sometimes purchase tickets from the Mozart-costumed representatives on the street outside Vienna’s famous and ornate State Opera House.
  • Take the metro and head a bit outside the city center to explore the Schönbrunn Palace and the accompanying gardens and grounds.  The Palace, originally commissioned to be a hunting lodge, eventually grew into a palatial imperial residence over the course of the eighteenth century.
  • Seek out street art: Vienna has a thriving street art culture, though discovering it isn’t quite as easy as in Paris or Bogota.  Start on the Donaukanal, a former arm of the river Danube, but now a regulated water channel through the city.  The walls and banks of the Donaukanal are filled with all types of graffiti and art on one massive long urban ever changing canvas.  Wandering the streets though the Mariahilf neighborhood to the Naschmarkt will offer produce some excellent art if you know where to look.  I missed the permanent Invader installation in the Museum Quarter, but you won’t thanks to this guy’s handy dandy map.
Budapest Hungary

Exploring Budapest

Each year, Fearless Photographers, a world wide professional photography organization that I’m a member of, hosts an annual conference in Europe dedicated to furthering education, inspiration and networking.  Always the prolific traveler that I am, I decided after last year’s successful and memorable conference in Porto, Portugal, that I wouldn’t ever miss a year.  I was overjoyed when Huy announced that this year’s conference was going to be in Budapest, which has been on my travel list for quite some time.  I fell in love with this charming Eastern European city and to be honest, I didn’t plan enough days there, which just means that I’ll have to return.  It’s mind blowingly beautiful, the food is amazing, the people are incredibly generous and it has a hip, vibrant and creative culture.  I feel pretty lucky to have been able to spend a few days exploring Budapest, meeting other Fearless Photographers from around the world, with my good friends Nicky and Ilana.

Here’s a few of my favorite images from the trip, taken by myself mixed in with a selection of our images thanks to Rokolya Photography for Flytographer.

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STAY: Until 1873, Budapest was actually two different cities, Buda on the western bank of the Danube river and Pest on the eastern.  Buda has sweeping vistas, offered from the rolling slopes and tiered streets surrounding the the old Citadella fortress.  We chose to stay in Pest, because of the proximity to our work conference, but didn’t regret it: the busy, bustling streets of the trendy neighborhoods across the river offered an abundance of people watching, gourmet restaurants and underground “ruin” bars to explore.

EAT: have at least one traditional Hungarian dinner, but make sure to explore Budapest’s extensive and varied restaurants as well.

  • Mak Bistro was one of our favorite dinners during our entire trip.  The menu is creative, laden with interesting twists on Hungarian dishes, and the wine list is exceptional.
  • We ended up at Pozsonyi Kisvendeglo for a traditional Hungarian meal on the first night.  It seemed to be mostly frequented by locals, the menu was only in Hungarian, the portions were massive and the goulash was delicious.
  • I would have never expected to find the best bagel of my life in Budapest but I did and we ate there every morning we could.  Inez Bagel Shop, conveniently located across the street from our Airbnb, also had the best coffee I’ve had in a long time!
  • Our meal at Mazi was a stand-out.  Traditional Greek food prepared fresh, in an adorable setting with fantastic service.  The squid ink pasta sent us to the moon.
  • Underneath our Airbnb was an Italian restaurant, Caffe GianMario, that was open from dawn to far past dusk.  It was always packed.  Every day the incredible smells of a garlic red sauce would waft up through the courtyard.  It would overwhelm you as you walked to or from the apartment door.  We knew that eating there at least one night was an absolute must and I’m so glad we did.  The minute you stepped into the restaraunt, you were transported to what I can only imagine Italy is like: an intimate cafe that was loud, boisterous and joyful.  An unexpected surprise in a lobster pasta, a perfect pizza pie and interesting conversation with a Russian sitting next to us really made this night a memorable one.

DRINK:

  • Szimpla Kert might be Budapest’s most famous ruin bar, but with good reason.  It was the first and paved the way to change what folks saw in buildings that would have otherwise been demolished.  What started as an idea for a community art space is now one of Pest’s busiest bars.  The eclectic collection of thrift store finds and bizarre inclusions feels like it would be right at home in Austin, TX and the walls are graced with community art and plants.
  • The Faust Wine Cellar is hard to find but worth the effort: the result is a lesson in Hungarian wine, from a knowledgeable local expert in an underground cellar beneath the Buda Castle.  They guide you through 6 tastings (five different ones and then one repeat).  We loved the experience (and the wine) so much that we ended up taking a few bottles home to the apartment with us.

EXPLORE

  • Get lost in Castle Hill: on the Buda side of the river, the castle and old citadel, a Unesco World Heritage Site, offer unparalleled views of the city and hours of exploration.
  • Shop local: find selections of books, clothes, jewelry, art and other knickknacks from local artisans at Rododendron Art and Design and in the stalls at Paloma, which offers a hidden interior courtyard with a multitude of small quaint stalls hosting anywhere from 1-10 artists and craftsmen in each one.  From leather bags, to shoes, to art, to jewelry, we walked out of there having spent a wonderful afternoon chatting with the designers and artists themselves and with our pocketbooks significantly lighter.  Paloma is cash only so hit up the ATM before you go!
  • Budapest is world reknown for it’s thermal baths and parks and those are two things that I wish I’d had extra days here to explore.  Don’t make the same mistake we did!
  • Hire Flytographer Roky.  It’s no secret that I love to hire professional photographer’s for myself as a souvenir when I travel.  This was Nicky’s first international travel experience as an adult and she was really excited to have it captured professionally as well.  Roky was amazing and we had the best afternoon exploring the quaint steep brick streets and architecture of Buda with him.  He made us feel like a million bucks!
Winter Trip in Paris

Winter Trip to Paris | Travel Guide

Paris, je t’aime.

When I had to make a trip to London this past January, I decided that I wanted to tack on at least one other major European city to explore.  With a couple of girlfriends on board, we decided that Paris was the perfect location for a winter girls’ trip.  Wine, cheese, croissants, art, and scarves – what’s not to love about winter in Paris?  Oh, and there’s no tourists to be seen save us. 

24 hours into our trip and I had already fallen in love.  Meals are three hour affairs involving multiple courses shared languidly over intimate conversations with wine.  Everyone is impeccably dressed, there is a cheese shop on every corner, directly next to the bakery, and you can’t find a bad glass of wine if you tried.

We spent over a week in this historic and entrancing city and I can’t wait to return.  

Here’s a few of my favorite images from the trip, along with some that we hired Flytographer to take for us, along with recommendations for your winter trip to Paris.

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STAY: Montmarte was our favorite neighborhood, but you also can’t go wrong with the Marais.

EAT: I dare you to find a bad bottle of wine in this city.  I double dog dare you to find bad cheese.  Doesn’t fucking exist.

  • Anne and I had been anxious to try out EatWith ever since we’d heard about the concept: EatWith’s goal is to bring strangers and travelers together at tables around the world in local’s homes.  You sign up to eat with others and learn about new cultures and food traditions and Paris seemed like the perfect place to try it out.  We absolutely adored our meal with Claudine more than any other meal we had the entire trip.  It was incredibly memorable from start to finish – so much so that we ended up inviting her to join us for dinner later that week.  I’m feeling thankful to have had such a unique experience and to make a new friend!
  • Restaurant Jeanne B in Montmarte feels a bit like stepping into a charming farm-style delicatessen, if that is a thing.  Spiraling sausages hang from the ceiling and the daily changing menu is presented on chalkboards at your table.  We enjoyed the experience and the variety so much, it became the only spot we returned to twice on our trip.
  • The cathedral like ceiling and mirrored accents make the sparsely decorated Daroco feel extra chic but also warm  and cozy somehow.  They offer wood fired pizzas and homemade pasta for those looking for a bit of comfort in an incredibly stylish setting.
  • Do not confuse Les 110 de Taillevent with it’s 3 star Michelin rated big brother around the corner.  Although, if you do, they are used to it and will simply direct you to where you are supposed to go.  Despite showing up late, they will graciously seat you amongst the 110 options for wines by the glass and feed you stunningly prepared food.
  • Our favorite meal in Marais was at Le Dôme du Marais, which feels remarkably like eating in your own private garden.  The building was originally utilized as an auction house to fight against poverty thanks to Louis XVI.  It’s absolutely stunning inside and the food is exquisite to match.

DRINK:

  • We were told by no less than 10 people that a drink at Les Philosophers was a must.
  • We spent an extraordinary amount of time at Le Gisou, partially because it was literally across the street from our flat, but also because it was charming, cozy, had a great staff and an even better bathroom.
  • The Bar Hemingway is a must visit, but only for one drink, because that’s all you can afford.
  • The Bistrologist is perfect for late night cocktails.  Their drinks are inventive, the decor dimly lit and intimate, and it feels a bit like a speakeasy.  The kitchen also stays open really late if you find yourself wandering the streets and starving at midnight.

EXPLORE

  • After doing the graffiti street tour in Bogota, Colombia, Anne and I have been inspired to find more walking tours, whether street art related or not.  Paris actually offers it’s own street art walking tour hosted by Street Art Paris.  They offer tours in Montmarte, the Left Bank, and the one we chose, Belleville.  Since we were staying in Montmarte, we thought it would be nice to explore a neighborhood we weren’t already wandering on our own.
  • The cooking classes at La Cuisine Paris are worth the expense!  We participated in the market class, which starts off in a nearby outdoor market.  You collectively pick a plan for your meal, shop for ingredients, and then return to the La Cuisine kitchens to prep, cook and share your meal together.  It was a wonderful experience and I was even able to come back home and recreate most of the aspects of the meal on my own from memory!
  • If you’re a wino like me, a wine tasting is a must-do.  The classes at O Chateau will walk you through the French vineyards and regions.  We walked away with a much greater appreciation of French varietals and their appellation system.
  • Gonçalo Silva was Flytographer’s first ever photographer hire and I was pretty excited to meet him and have him do a Paris portrait session for us.  We ended up having a blast wandering the charming streets of Montmarte with him and another Flytographer photographer, James.   We all loved each other’s company so much that two bars and a meal later, we finally concluded our evening together!

  • Fondation Louis Vuitton is an incredible display of design, color and architecture designed by Frank Gehry.  While we were visiting, they were hosting a traveling exhibit of 130 artworks collected by Sergei Shchukin, on display for the first time outside of Russia.  It was a really incredible collection, featuring tons from Matisse and Gauguin, not to mention the building itself.
Alfama Buildings

Three Days in Lisbon

It wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a stop in this large, sophisticated city with pockets of old world European charm. Spend three days in Lisbon and you’ll have plenty of time to discover all the pockets of wonderful things this area has to offer.

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Lisbon, while charming and mysterious, wasn’t quite as thrilling for me after spending so many days in Porto. It’s a much larger city and it feels that way.  That being said, it’s a worthwhile stop for two to three days while you are exploring the country.  Although I won’t return for a second visit, I am overwhelmingly happy that I visited and it wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a visit to Lisbon.

STAY: You want to stay in the Alfama district: it’s tight magical winding streets are even smaller than those that have a similar feel in Porto.  There are tiny restaurants and cafes tucked into every corner with traditional food and Fado music, the melancholy but traditional music of the country.  There are charming and vintage private rooms to be had on Airbnb in the area for $20-40 a night in the area and entire flats for $35-$70.

EAT:  I had a harder time finding cuisine that I was over the moon for in Lisbon, simply due to the grander larger nature of the city.  Small intimate recommendations were harder to come by here: Lisbons’ seem to pride themselves on being a cosmopolitan city and most of the places that were suggested were fancier and more American than we were looking for.  That being said, I had some solid meals in the city, the most memorable of which came on my last night in a small restaraunt with three tables run by one older woman who spoke no english.  She fed me the traditional dish of Portugal: salted cod with shredded fried potatoes and it was clearly the nation’s comfort food.

  • Queijaria for afternoon snacks or lunch: this place was quaint, unassuming and filled with amazing cheese.  It’s a great place to stop and refill mid day while you are out exploring – you can quench your thirst with a glass of wine and eat cheese and antipasto to your heart’s content.
  • Garrafeira Alfaia is dark, unassuming and comfortable.  Dine on traditional black pudding rice with cumin, sausage with scrambled eggs or the secret black pork Lagareiro.  If you aren’t that hungry, order more wine and cheese.  I may have consisted on pure wine and cheese this entire trip.
  • Frangasqueira Nacional for lunch.  This small grilled meat shop offers nowhere to sit, but quite possibly the best blood sausage and roasted chicken in the city.  Order up a mixed meat platter and head down the road to the Principe Real Garden to enjoy it.  After that, head down the road to the Botanical Garden to walk off your massive food coma.

DRINK:

  • Solar do Vinho do Porto is a warm cozy place to curl up on the couch with a book on an overcast day.  It’s dark and wonderful in there and the selection of ports will astound you.
  • Listen to Fado at anywhere that draws you in at night in Alfama.  You can wander the streets until you hear something that intrigues you or make dinner reservations

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost in the streets of Almalfa.   The view is particularly gorgeous from Miradouro de Santa Luzia.  Wander all the way up to the mediaeval Castle of São Jorge, the royal residence until the early 16th century.
  • The Museu Colecção Berardo has an impressive collection of modern art and no entrance fee.  It had more Warhols than I’ve ever seen in one collection!
  • Still not museumed out?  Head up to the Museu da Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian which has an incredibly impressive collection of ancient world, religious and Impressionist and European art.
Porto Portugal

A Week in Portugal: Porto Travel Guide

This past March I took advantage of a great excuse to explore Europe: Fearless Photographers offers a yearly photography conference in different European cities and this year’s conference was in Porto, Portugal.  I was excited to attend what turned out to be an incredibly inspiring and enriching experience.  I met some incredibly loving and adventurous people who I look forward to a future adventures with, drank on the streets until 4 AM with them one night, wandered the iconic city for hours on end every day taking photos of vibrantly colored buildings and it’s beautiful traditional azulejo, the ceramic blue tiles that adorn many of it’s historical buildings, discovered a love of expensive port and ate like a king.  Porto’s people are unvaryingly calm and collected: they have soothing voices with evenly paced pronunciation that makes you feel incredibly tranquil in their presence.

Here’s a few of my favorite images from my trip, interspersed with images taken of my friend and kick ass travel companion Shaunte, of Shaunte Dittmar Photography, and myself by Momento Cativo for Flytographer.

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Porto won me over in every way from head to toe.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination: unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  I could easily spend weeks in this city and never tire of wandering it’s streets.  Here’s a mini Porto travel guide of navigating this beautiful city.

STAY: You want to stay in the Ribeira district: it’s charming historical winding streets and churches around every corner give it the old world European feel.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible food.  The riverside offers unbeatable vantage points of Porto, especially if you cross over the bridge into Gaia for an evening.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $40-70 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Hugo’s TocToc Studio.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Porto were tiny and intimate.  Most had five tables or less.  Most had three people working, or less.  Restaurants in Porto open late (expect to eat after 8 PM every night) and reservations are usually needed.  We were there during Easter week, which is a big holiday for most of Europe, and in some cases it was hard to get reservations for places.  At dinner most nights, we started just asking them to bring us whatever they wanted to serve us or whatever they thought they did best, and the results were always inspiring.  Of all the places I’ve traveled, Porto will remain in my heart as one of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve ever had.

  • A Sandeira for lunch: score a bowl of homemade soup and a sandwich for 5 euros.  Like most wonderful Porto restaurants, this place is incredibly intimate and has very few tables so go early if you don’t want to hang outside waiting for a spot to open up.  It’s worth the wait!
  • Our meal at La Piada was one of the most memorable of our trip.  The staff is incredibly gracious.  The restaurant itself is wide open, with tall ceilings, a tree in the middle of one of the tables and local art on the walls.  The couple who owns the restaurant is Italian and Portuguese and they offer piadinas: a small italian flatbread filled with Portuguese staples.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Porta4.  There were three tables in the entire restaurant and two brothers taking turns cooking and serving us.
  • Amarelo Torrada for breakfast: if you are dying for something bigger than an espresso, this gal never minded serving me up a large americano.  I was craving eggs and actual breakfast for most of my trip, but these guys had some wonderful breakfast like toasted bread combos like cream cheese and lox that were a good stand in.

DRINK:

  • I found Livraria da Baixa on my first day and I returned every day thereafter.  The staff is warm, welcoming, and remembered me and my drink.  They mix a great cocktail and if it’s a nice day, you can sit out on the patio and people watch.  If it’s a rainy day, you can while away the evening in the incredibly cozy upstairs lounge.  Just push the bell on the bookshelf when you are ready to order another round!
  • Graham’s is one of the oldest and most renown of the Port makers in the area.  Tour their famous lodge overlooking Gaia and Porto and then partake in a tasting in the tasting room.  Be forewarned: the vintage tawny tasting is worth the expense but may ruin you in regards to port forever.  I have come to the new self realization that it is not that I don’t like port – it’s that I don’t like cheap port.

EXPLORE:

  • Take a boat trip on the Duoro River.  This is one of the few things that I wasn’t able to do and wish I had.  You can view the architecture of Porto from a new vantage point, or take a boat all the way up the river into the wine growing region and go wine tasting.
  • Go on a church tour: Igreja dos Carmelitas has an incredibly picturesque traditional tile wall on the outside.  Clerigos Church offers a 75 meter tall tower that offers unprecedented views of the city from the top of it.  Expect a wait to climb the 240 stairs if you are there at a busy time.  The Church of Sao Francisco is filled with gilded Baroque decor.
  • Get your tourist on: Lello & Irmão Bookstore is apparently the third most famous library in the world, most likely because it supposedly inspired many aspects of Harry Potter for JK Rowling.  The architecture inside is supposedly incredibly stunning.  I didn’t have the patience to stand in line for four hours to go inside, so I’ll have to go back.  If you really want to see the inside, you might go first thing in the morning before it opens to avoid the crowds, or right at closing.  Cafe Majestic opened in 1921 and used to be the meeting point for the area’s elite and creatives.  I was told it’s incredibly beautiful but has “tourist pricing.”  JK Rowling also apparently spent many a day in this cafe on the first book in the series.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer’s photographers for Porto are Ivo and Vanessa.  This dynamic duo of a photographic team are married and totally in love with their home.  They were incredibly fun to wander the city with for an afternoon, exploring the tight winding streets for the best kind of souvenir: photos of ourselves playing in a city we came to love.
  • Visit the Oporto Craft Market: it’s filled with small stalls of homemade art, foodstuffs, and other creations by local artisans.

Flytographer in Porto Portugal

Snowglobe Festival

Snowglobe Photos | Day 3

There may have been frigid temps in Tahoe South this year, but you couldn’t put a freeze on Snowglobe attendees spirits.  Regardless of the weather, the crowds braved the bone-chilling cold to dance the night away and ring in the New Year under fireworks and our beautiful mountain sky.  With the new addition of the Snowglobe warming tent, which included an amazing retro dance party at all hours of the day, party goers were better equipped to escape the elements this year.

My third day at Snowglobe was elevated by Atmosphere, who seems to genuinely love Tahoe and returns to it often.  For that I am thankful!  I found some funky grooves in the Sierra Tent punched up with swing music borrowed from the Roaring 20’s by Tincup, which made me a little bit warmer and quite happy!  Side story of hilarity: White Guy Pad Thai is so delicious and in such hot demand, they ran out of pad thai (I told you so) and turned into White Guy Weiners for the last day.

Here’s a few photos from our last day at Snowglobe 2014.  We hope you enjoyed your stay in Tahoe and Happy New Year!

Help me win a trip to Berlin

Ugh.

Remember when I wrote about how I was trying to win a trip to Berlin? It’s one of those annoying who-isn’t-afraid-to-bother-their-facebook-friends-more-than-the-other-person-contests.

I refuse to harass my friends that much. I’m cool with harassing them a bit, but getting on facebook once a day and asking your friends to repeatedly vote so that you can win a goddamn trip to Europe when there are still people without power in our own country is a bit pretentious.

So, the low down is, you can go here and vote up to once a day between now and December 16th. Every time you vote, you also get entered to win a trip to Berlin.

Also, they moved all my wording around. It looks not anything like that gorgeous post I wrote on what I would really do if I went to Berlin. Also, there’s no chance in hell I’d stay in that monstrosity of a hotel – I would stay in this amazing flat.

Make it Happen: Berlin

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Expedia.com is giving away a trip to Berlin for one lucky blogger. I decided to enter the competition, which had some tight restrictions. I wrote this beautiful long informative post on all the things I would dream of doing with a week in Berlin, only to discover it was about 1,000 words too long. My imaginary trip to Berlin takes far more than 200 words to describe.

Make It Happen: BERLIN (the long version)

I fell in love with Europe after visiting Munich in 2011 and now I have a strong desire to not only explore more of Europe, but Germany in particular. With only two days there, I clearly wasn’t able to give the country the time it’s history and culture deserves! Berlin in particular has much to offer for the traveler due to it’s diverse art scene, complex history and 153 different museums!  Here’s what I would do with a few days in the capital city.

STAY

  • Reserve a room in the Swissotel Berlin where your luxury room comes stocked with an espresso maker to get you up and out the door in the morning and you can rent bikes on site.
swissotel berlin

The Swissotel Berlin, photo via Expedia.co.uk

EAT

  • Taste the locavore menu of Ibero-Pacific cuisine at Pantry.
  • Housed in what seems to be an old church, Katz Orange offers changing seasonal menus and inventive twists on classic cocktails like their “Mexican Garden,” a sweet and spicy take on a margarita.
  • At Frarosa drink wine, choose from two set menus and pay a suggested donation price (or what you think the meal was worth!).

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NIGHTLIFE

  • Head to Clarchens Ballhaus where they offer nightly lessons in tango, salsa or swing and then spend the rest of the night getting showed up on the dance floor by grandmas.
  • Berlin is world renown for it’s nightlife and I wouldn’t be able to go without spending at least one night out listening to some EDM.  Panorama Bar is your best bet for international talent: it was named the “Best Club in the World” in 2011.
  • Farbfernseher is Berlin’s smallest house venue. What it lacks for in size, however, it makes up for in spirit.
  • Cookies: the club for those of you who want to party on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Only.

VISIT

  • Start your first day off with the Discover Berlin Walking Tour which will take you around to the major historical sites.  If you have the time, delve deeper with the Third Reich Walking Tour and see what is left of the “1000 year Reich.”  Later on, return on your own to the Berlin Wall via the Nordbahnhof Station, which houses a museum that details the ancient history of the underground transportation system and the stories of those who used it to escape.  Walk the 1.3km-long section of the wall known as the Eastside Gallery.

Original Berlin Walks Logo

  • The Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical triumph arch, is the capital city’s most iconic landmark as it is the only remaining gate that used to be the only way to enter the city.
  • Berlin might be best known for it’s vibrant street art and graffiti scene.   The city, which once fought the wall murals, has opened it’s arms to street artists.  Well known murals are found in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, but it’s hard to find a street without art in the city.  Learn about the artists and their tags at the online magazine Berlin Graffiti.
  • Explore 800 years of history at the interactive museum The Story of Berlin.  Exhibits include a still functioning nuclear bomb shelter.
  • The DDR Musuem lets guests explore what life was like under the socialist regime in East Berlin.
  • The Pergamom Museum is the most visited museum in Germany and holds the Pergamon Altar, so large it takes up an entire room and was originally constructed as an alter to Zeus.

 OFF THE BEATEN PATH

  • On Sunday afternoons, join the masses and check out Bearpit Karaoke at the amphitheater in Mauerpark!

The Long Road Home

When we settled up the next day it became apparent at how much more reasonable Greece is than other parts of Europe. Our entire stay at Harry’s Villas, for 10 nights, including all the food we ate and unlimited wine we drank rang up to roughly 400 euros each. That’s about $50 a day. AMAZING.

Baller Blaine Photo: Erik Moore

It may be easy to get to Kalymnos from Germany, but getting home is no breeze. We had to return scooters, all get to Pothia, and then take a ferry to Kos. Upon arrival in Kos, the rest of the crew who was flying out that afternoon had hours to kill. My flight out didn’t leave until the next morning.

Photo: Erik Moore

None of us had taken showers in a few days because there had been no hot water. We were all tired from the revelry the night before and Greg, now that climbing was no longer on his agenda, was feeling pretty beat up from his scooter accident and lingering bruising. While I was sad to see my friends go, I did not envy their road home which included a 10 hour layover in Paris. Short enough to be really awful and hardly long enough to be worthwhile.

I left them in search of the hotel I’d arranged to stay at in another town on the island of Kos, dreaming of a nap and a warm shower. I had been a bit nervous about accommodation on Kos as every time I tried to arrange them the internet sites said that rooms were unavailable. It wasn’t that they were sold out – it was that there was NO ONE there. I was the ONLY guest in my hotel that night and apparently the whole week so despite the fact that it had been cloudy for days, I was able to take not one but two hot showers.

I found an internet cafe and spent a few euros interneting my heart out and then wandered around the streets for awhile before finally settling down to dinner at a restaurant on the main tourist strip. The owner of my hotel came by at one point and spoke with my waiter: they are apparently close friends. Funny how even though the town I was in seemed so much larger than any of those in Kos, the community was still small.

Kos is a Euro party town and it was apparent, even with empty streets. The town is littered with four times as many restaurants as any of the towns in Kalymnos and there were a ton of discos and bars. The owner of my hotel, Kostas, told me that during the summer the streets are packed with tourists. I had a really nice long conversation with him that evening about Greece’s economic woes, the difference between the Greek people and Americans, and travel. Kostas was very interested in my trip to Cuba that we took a few years back and was also excited to close up his hotel for the winter and head to Thailand, where he would be helping out a friend.

His hotel, the Origin Hotel and Apartments, offered rooms similar to that in our villa at Harry’s: nondescript plain furnishings, a small kitchenette, and a tiny bathroom. Nothing fancy, but welcome and economically priced. I paid 20 euros to stay the evening.

The next morning I flew out of Kos to start the long way home, which was far more difficult than traveling to Germany. 4 planes, 35 hours and 5 different airports. Not my idea of a good time. But worth the adventure that we had.

Photo: Greg Brooks

If you would like to see all of Erik’s photos from Kalymnos, you may do so here. If you would like to see all of Greg’s photos from Kalymnos, you may do so here.

Toasts with Friends

It was our last full day in Kalymnos and of course, it was cold, wet and cloudy. We had coffee in our lovely garden and Erik, Blaine, Ellen and I decided to head to Pothia to break up the day.

Photo: Erik Moore

Erik specifically wanted to visit the monestary of St. Savvas, the patron saint of the island of Kalymnos, which is perched on a hill above the main port town. St. Savvas lived the last twenty years of his life as a priest on Kalymnos. He is one of the most recognized saints and miracle workers in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece and there is a long history of monasticism. The island is littered with small churches or monasteries, some of them dating back to the Byzantine era. They are all white washed, with blue trim, and you find them in strange places, such as the one we saw far out into the fields near the Sikati cave. Apparently most of the small churches we came across are apparently still fully-functioning spiritual retreats for Orthodox monks and nuns.

Photo: Erik Moore

Photo: Erik Moore

We also spent a long time learning about the history of sponge harvesting from a shop owner. All of the world’s natural sponges are harvested by Kalymnians in either the Aegean Sea or just outside of Florida. There are also sponges in the Mediterranean near Italy but they aren’t available for harvesting after a horrible disease destroyed most of the sponge population there in the mid-80s. Since ancient times, the life, culture and economy of Kalymnos has relied on their ability to collect sponges and it is one of the main occupations on the island. Because of this relationship, sponges are referred to on the island as Kalymnian “gold.”

Photo: Erik Moore

That afternoon, we sat around on the patio drinking wine and playing domino games. It would shockingly be the first and only day I would be able to get drunk in Greece! The wine was so mellow there. Apparently the secret is to literally drink it ALL afternoon.

Photo: Erik Moore

While we lushed, Erik ran around taking photos of the family. The following are a few of my favorites.

Dimitri and Yanni Photo: Erik Moore

Evie and Yanni

We were sad to arrive on our last meal in Evie’s kitchen. The food we were served there by her will forever be ingrained in my memory as filling, loving and comfortable. The recipes, handed down through generations, made our trip extremely special. We were also pleased to have some travel companions, also staying at Harry’s Paradise, join us for dinner, during which we feasted on some of the most delectable cod I’ve ever eaten, chickpea fritters, and chicken. My only wish for every vacation I take is that the last evening be filled with delicious food, wonderful friends drunk on wine, and glorious laughter.

Photo: Erik Moore