Sunday, December 3, 2017

US trip part three: in and around Portland, Oregon

The second half of our trip was mostly spent in Portland and it's surroundings in all directions. By that point, I apparently started forgetting about taking pictures, which is why I included some taken with my phone. To be honest, a lot of the time we were just hanging out with friends and family and not so much "sightseeing" anymore.

Portland was just awesome. The city is super liberal and has an open-minded feel to it (or as they say, hipster) and there is always something to do. We went to an arcade bar, ate donuts, saw a drag queen pageant show, shopped at Powell's, helped Matt's brother build haunted houses for the Halloween season, walked across the St. Johns Bridge at sunset (way scarier than it sounds because it's shaky and the pedestrian paths are narrow), checked out where Matt used to go to classes at PSU, ate some more donuts, hiked up Mount Tabor, went to Powell's again, had sushi for lunch every day, went cider tasting and so much more.

We also had another camping gone glamping trip in Government Camp. Instead of tents, we ended up staying in a 4-bedroom cabin with a terrace, fireplace, kitchen, living room and two bathrooms. Besides the two days of family derping in the cabin and checking out Oregons highest mountain Mount Hood up close, Matt's sister and her husband took us there from Portland via the scenic route through the Columbia river gorge. We climbed Beacon Rock and had a spontaneous wine tasting session in a small winery.

During our time in Scappoose, we took two trips to the coast. First, we drove to Astoria, which might as well be called small San Francisco. I mean, it's by the ocean, it's hilly, it has the sealions hanging out at the docks... We almost accidentally found a restaurant called Buoy that had a glass wall on the water side and a part of the floor made of glass with heat lamps under it so that the sealions were just chilling there - so cool! Besides that they had great beer and cider selections, some of it brewed by themselves. Second, we headed towards Cannon Beach and Seaside. Cannon Beach was obviously super cool because of the Haystack Rock whereas Seaside was way too touristy for my taste.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

US trip part two: Northern California & Southern Oregon

From San Francisco we slowly made our way up north. We had an ultimate reunion with our friend Kyle after not seeing each other for a year and a half. He came to pick us up and even agreed to take a detour on our way to Sacramento so that we could drive over the Golden Gate Bridge! Little did I know how much hotter the weather would get as we drove further away from the ocean... it got up to 40C during our time in Sacramento and Redding, which is, safe to say, the hottest weather I've experienced in my life! But if it means sipping mimosas in the pool all day, I think there are worse fates. Kyle also made it his mission to introduce me to the wonders of Costco - a massive grocery store where you can buy everything in bulk. You never know when you might suddenly need 10 jars of peanut butter... Even though I knew that everything in the US is bigger, I was still amazed every single time. Like for example there was a megachurch near Kyle's house. From the outside it looked like a mall and it had huge billboards on the highway inviting people to join?!

The hot weather, drought and sadly also people doing stupid things meant that we had to change our plans multiple times due to wildfires everywhere in the area. Our original plan was to go to the coast right away and see the Redwoods, but in the end we had to head straight over towards Oregon. First we took the Greyhound to Redding, where Jeanette and Brian picked us up for the next leg of the journey. Taking the bus in the US is apparently a very dangerous activity and the Greyhound has somehow aquired the worst reputation, which is why our decision to take the bus caused a lot of panic in the family, lol. Thankfully we survived the 4 hours on the bus without getting stabbed or anything like that... If you can, however, take the train instead, do it - Amtrak was honestly SO NICE, but I'll write more about it next time.

In Redding I went to my first real diner - just like in the movies. I wish I had practiced ordering breakfast beforehand, though... you have to communicate your wishes regarding what type of bread you want, how you'd like your eggs, what you want as a side and if you want anything to drink besides water in what felt like three and a half seconds tops?! Most breakfast foods would qualify as a home-style dinner in Europe (except in the UK where they also eat sausages and beans for breakfast), especially the fried potatoes in all forms. I was pleasantly surprised when I thought that my waffle was served with a scoop of ice cream. Thank god Matt warned me before I was about to eat that spoonful of butter... :D

From there we drove up towards Oregon, stopping here and there to check our pretty nature stuff like the Sacramento river headwaters near Mount Shasta. Collected some water and saw a lot of hippies doing the same. It was also cool to see a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, since I read/watched "Wild" not too long ago. I'm still planning on hiking a part of it one day!

We spent our first night in Oregon in Ashland and met up with another friend who grew up there and now also studies in Germany. I really liked the town - everything seemed so peaceful, more authentic and relaxed. Matt thinks that the people there are more rude than in other places but I actually liked the way everyone was in Ashland - polite but not overly (fake) friendly like we experienced in some other places. The cold-hearted northerner in me got to relax for a moment, haha. There was also a weird moment at our motel when I thought there was some sort of sand in the bottom of the pool. Turned out it was ashes from the wildfires forming such a big pile...

Our "main destination" for this part of the trip was Klamath Falls, where Matt's mom and some other family members live. It's a pretty small town, but the coolest part of it is that it's also not too far from pretty nature stuff. Oregon's most famous, of course, is the Crater Lake, which we went to see on my birthday. It's a massive volcano crater that has turned into a lake. It was the bluest thing I've ever seen! When we got up there, it was a little smoky, but not too bad. But after about an hour of walking around, we weren't even able to see the island in the middle of it as a thick cloud of smoke just kept rolling in... I'm so glad we got there when there was still something to see. Afterwards we picked up a huge ice cream cake from Dairy Queen (they even spelled my name correctly on it!!!) for my birthday, which we then ate for three consecutive days with the entire family. :D

Last but not least (actually my favourite part of this part of the trip), we also went camping at Fish Lake and exploring around Lake of the Woods. Fish Lake was cool (especially with the view on Mount McLaughlin when we were kayaking around), but Lake of the Woods was one of my favourite places during the whole month! It's just so pretty and peaceful, even though it's pretty much surrounded by people's summer houses and campsites. We also went to an event with live music by the water and attempted to make s'mores out of peeps, which everyone thought was hilarious. Speaking of camping, it's definately something else in the US. Especially in small towns, literally everyone has a fifth wheel camper in their yard - bonus points if it's bigger than your neighbour's. When you park them, most of them can be expanded to the sides so that you have a bedroom, bathroom, living room and a kitchen corner in it. It was insane one night when there was a beautiful sunset across the lake from our campsite and the family next to us were all sitting in their camper watching football on their flat screen TV. :D

I divided the posts up by the amount of pictures so I didn't think this one would be so long... But I think it'll be nice for me to read all this in the future and remember all my first impressions like that. It's funny, because every time people ask how the trip was, I can't even think where to begin or how to answer this shortly. But now I feel like I could keep writing here forever and still not be able to share all the adventures and emotions anyway.

Friday, November 3, 2017

US trip part one: San Francisco

Wow, long time no see. SO much has happened in the meantime. Not only did I find out for sure that I was accepted for the Master's programme that I hoped for (so much that I didn't even apply anywhere else), but by now, I already have the first couple of weeks of classes behind me. I am studying politics and public administration at the University of Konstanz - the place I did my Erasmus, fell in love with the city but not only and found home. Good thing the university rocks, right?

Anyway, I actually wanted to slowly start posting about our US trip this September. I will be posting this stuff as fast as I can, but considering how busy I've been with everything ever since we got back a few weeks ago, this will still probably take months, so gather patience.

Even though our priority was to visit Matt's family in Oregon, we decided to treat ourselves with San Francisco at the beginning of the trip as a birthday present to one another. I was so excited to go to the US for the first time ever, but now I feel like the whole trip was just one new thing after another. Obviously, I've lived abroad, but I've never actually continuously travelled for a month like that. Since we were also moving between places every three days on average, it was also quite overwhelming, but totally worth it. Like all Europeans, I think, i felt like I was in an average Hollywood movie for the first few days, haha.

San Francisco is absolutely crazy! We stayed in a weird hotel near the Civic Centre on Market Street - the absolute culture shock to a terribly jet-lagged me. We literally saw hundreds of homeless people, some pantsless looking for a vein to shoot in the street and so on. We might have just been unlucky with our location, though. The areas by the ocean and the bay were a totally different story. Some were pretty touristy, like the Fisherman's Wharf area. Then again, seeing sealions was pretty awesome, so I can't blame the people. My favourite was the trail going east from Fort Point with a view on the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and a big chunk of the city. It was crazy foggy (like every day in San Fran...), so there weren't too many people strolling around. San Francisco was also my first time seeing the Ocean! I think this has caused some confusion, though, since Americans also call most seas "the ocean". Obviously, since I grew up on an island, I've seen open water before. :D Anyway, I was still pretty excited to be able to look into the distance and think that on the other side of the water is Japan?! Another cool place to go is the Grandview Park with the tiled steps going up there. We also loved hanging out on Pier 7 in the evenings, which is totally quiet unlike the touristy piers. Oh, and you can try free chocolate samples if you walk through the Ghiradelli factory. :D

If you're up for it, San Francisco is pretty good for walking around - but you have to be prepared for the hills! Other than that, there are like 5 (?) different public transport systems with separate ticket systems. We managed to mess up once, but I guess now we have a $5 reimbursement check waiting for us next time we go over, lol.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Prague & My first travel video

I've been thinking about challenging myself to make some travel videos for a long time, but never actually got around to doing it. Taking photos is so easy and safe (especially after finding out what a pain learning video editing can be!), but I've done that for years now and decided I needed to try out something new. So this time in Prague, I took maybe 3 iPhone pictures alltogether and spent the rest of the time filming instead. Having close to zero experience with filming or talking in front of a camera, I actually planned for this to be just a practice video. But heck, I worked so damn hard to sort this stuff out, so I'll share it anyway. Don't be too harsh on me, even though I'd love to hear what I could fix or do better next time!

In case if you missed it, HERE is my post about our first trip to Prague earlier this year. We ended up staying in a completely different area this time - Prague 7, just north across the river from the old town. It seemed like kind of a ghetto at first, but is actually a pretty cool alternative neighborhood and a perfect prace to get some breathing space in the evenings after having spent the day in the old town with about a million selfie stick tourists. We also found a really cool breakfast spot there - Phill's Corner. Super chill and cool, and above all, a total opposite from the old town's tourist traps. Another cool cafe to check out is Jedna, which is in the National Gallery building. It's such a cool functionalist building and it's amazing how they've managed to turn such a large and cold-looking space into something so cool and cosy.

Another good tip from this time is to get to the castle as early as possible. We got there around 9 and barely had to wait in the security line, whereas hordes of tourists were brought in by buses behind us. It was kind of scary actually... Since we were trying to make it to the castle as quickly as possible, we ended up having breakfast at the cafe inside the fortress. It's probably a no-brainer, but that was not the best experience. Bad service (the waitress went full Hermione and literally snapped at me like "it's a baguette, not a sandwich"), below average food for the price and aggressive tip-culture (10% was just added to the bill automatically and the waitress was very annoyed when I asked about it). The castle itself was cool, but absolutely packed and we could only move along the paths with the masses. Thus, if you're short on time, I'd say skip the inside of the castle, but check out the square in front of it, and most importantly the breathtaking view over the city from there.

So yea, I think between the two posts, photos and videos, I have spent quite a lot of energy on Prague here. I think next time, I'll try to go to Brno instead - I love student towns, and second biggest cities are often the best places to actually see a country. :)

PS. Can someone explain, where the best beer gardens by the river are in Prague?! Everyone keeps talking about them, but I didn't find anything very inviting-looking. Except for the one up in the Letna park, that one is a must.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On books and living abroad

As I mentioned in my post about my Estonia trip, I read "Minu California" by Ede Schank Tamkivi during the trip. Now I have "Minu Tšehhi" next to my pillow. This Minu-series is an Estonian collection of books about different countries, written by Estonian expats (or foreigners living as expats in Estonia, to be 100% correct), and they're some of the most famous books in the country. Before those two mentioned, I've previously read the ones about the US, Narva, Alaska, Moldova, Estonia, London, Albania and Germany. Probably more, I just can't remember anymore.

Every time I read those, I think about my own life that somehow turned from an innocent study abroad in a full on expat experience in Germany before I could say Steueridentifikationsnummer. I always wonder if I'd be able to tell about my experience like that and where I'd even start. A lot of these books are based on blogs and diaries that help you remember how you felt the first time you realized how ridiculous GEZ is or learned that a Fax machine really belongs to an office environment in the most developed country in Europe in 2017. In some ways I've become so German in such a short period of time (when I returned home from my two semesters in Germany my friends told me that I look like an exchange student because of my backpack...) and that makes me wonder if I should put more effort in recording events here.

So yea, we'll see how this attempt goes. At least I always post about my trips and I have quite a few coming up this year still, so there will be pictures for sure. In any case, back to books, I lately added this Goodreads widget to my blog (on the right, probably not visible on the mobile view) so add me there! Before moving to Berlin I had this romantic mental image of big city life where I'd be commuting to work every day and reading tons of books on the subway. Well in reality I'm squeezed between all the other office rats only for a few stops on the most popular S-Bahn line going through the city centre. Nevertheless I'm trying to find more time and motivation to read lately - I also got a Kindle from Santa (:P) last year, which has been super handy on this mission since it fits into my smallest bag even and my friends are always late, haha. Not to mention the horrible mobile data prices in Germany that force you to find some offline alternatives to pass waiting time.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Estonia - Haapsalu, Saaremaa and being a tourist at home

Hey! I'm back in Berlin to unpack, repack and sleep for a night before heading to Northern Bavaria tomorrow. Well actually this post will probably be published with a delay since there was a huge misunderstanding with our internet connection. So by the time you read this, I'll probably be back again already.

Anyway, I wanted to share about my trip to Estonia this past week. Even though I missed the opportunity to see the German parliament voting to legalize gay marriage (yay for love!) live in Berlin, I was beyond excited to go home for the first time since Christmas. This time there were also a lot of firsts and new things for me, so I figured I'd list some.

  • I flew Nordica for the first time! It's the successor of Estonian Air aka. the airline founded after the previous Estonian national airline declared bankruptcy in 2015. Even though Matt has flown them once from Munich, their prices have been way too high in comparison to not only the Baltic budget airline AirBaltic but sadly even to SAS (which remains my favorite airline!). Even though I've heard some concerning stories about cancelled flights and whatnot, my personal experience with them was pretty good this time. Now all they need to do is open a Tallinn-Zurich connection, and we're set. 
  • I visited Haapsalu for the first time after at least a decade (you know you're getting old if you can say things like that). The town is seriously super cute, especially the cafes/restaurants/souvenir shops area and of course the seaside. We stayed in the Fra Mare Thalasso SPA hotel which is by far the best price-quality SPA I know in Estonia, probably due to Haapsalu being a little bit off the beaten path. But as I said, totally worth the trip! I'd definately recommend it over Laulasmaa SPA, which is a little closer to Tallinn, but has a more children-oriented swimming area (unless that's what you're looking for, of course!) and fewer other eating options and sights around. By the way, I also got my first ever full 40 minute massage, which was such a weird experience... also super painful on my shoulders, lol. 
  • I tried a bunch of Estonian craft beers, which seems to be totally "in" these days. I'm not really a beer expert, but I liked the Jaanihanso Hopped Medium Cider (nice and dry, not super sweet cider) and Pöide Schlager (a new sort from Saaremaa's Pöide) more than the ginger beer from Pihtla (apparently Estonia's oldest microbrewery, also on Saaremaa) or a local beer called Hapsal that I tried in Haapsalu. It's also interesting that Latvia's Valmiermuiža seems to have some sort of a second coming on the Estonian market. Since it was one of my Dad's favourite beers, I remember going out of my way trying to find it for him in Estonia back in the day, whereas now you can even get it on tap from multiple restauants on Saaremaa. And just as I'd said something along the lines "well they still don't have the Frišs here", I found that too, in the Retro restauant in Kuressaare. 
  • I went to a concert in an experimental event space called Triigi Filharmoonia on the north shore of Saaremaa. The weather was absolutely horrible (going from Germany to Estonia, my allergies smoothly transitioned into a cold), so we passed on the chance to check out something cool on the way up, which would have been fun otherwise. The stage is also built in a way that you should be able to watch the sunset behind the performer(s) through the glass wall. Or in our case, a very stormy grey sea, which was also mystic in a way. 
  • I read "Minu California" by Ede Schank Tamkivi. It's not necessarily a new edition in the infamous Estonian travel/expact book series, but I figured would read it as a little prep for our upcoming US trip. I enjoyed her intelligent and positive way of writing, which is why the book made it among my favorite Minu-books now. Definately recommend! 

It felt ironic to maneuver my suitcase through the youth singing festival masses on the Freedom Square and even past the "singing festival fire" being carried at the front of the procession on my last morning in Tallinn. The by far the most patriotic festival carries a different motto each time and this year it was Mina jään/Here I'll stay. But there I was, on my way back to my home away from home. I won't stay yet but I'll come back one day, I promise!