Archive | November, 2011

Picture This: Whale Watching in Los Gigantes Tenerife

Whale Watching in Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Spain)

We are obsessed with discovering the World.

We aim to step on land that no one or only few of us have visited before. We want individuality. Uniqueness. Experiences that will be recorded in our memory until we grow old. We travel around the globe by train, bus, plane and/or taxi (often using a combination of all of these) in a surprisingly short time span, only to visit somewhere we define as exotic.

The funny thing is – Sometimes the most unique and exotic experiences are right in front of our door step.

My Travel ABC

Christine from Christine in Spain tagged me in a self-created A to Z survey about travel called The ABC of Travel!

Thanks again, Christine, for this lovely idea… and apologies for the slight delay on posting!

Sunset in Formentera, Spain

A: Age you went on your first international trip: I believe I was a newborn when my family took me to visit my relatives in Germany. However, my memory only recalls back to when I was 5 or 6 and my family took me to Orlando, USA.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: I’d go for Delirium Tremens, a belgian pale ale that caught my attention in a bar in London. The name, delirium tremens, stands for a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. An euphemism for this vicious condition is seeing pink elephants – and that is exactly what is pictured on the bottle. Genius. Really. It doesn’t taste like regular beer – but rather a bitter but fruity strong ale. I love it!

C: Cuisine (favorite): Spanish. Ok, french. Frankly, I can’t decide. I do like the simplicity of spanish food and how basic ingredients can make such delicious meals. But I do also like how complex and accurate french cuisine is – I mean, have you ever tried doing proper macaroons? It’s a lot of hard work, specially on precision! And that, you can taste in the meal…

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: So far, one of my favorite destinations has been New Zealand. I find it combines all I look for – mountains, lakes, beaches, cities, sports, relax and party – just so well. Place the country closer to family and friends, and I would, with no doubt, move there indefinitely. On the other side, I would say that probably Ireland is so far my least favorite destination. I’m sorry, Ireland – If you blew off some of those clouds that seem to be stuck on you over months, I would be happy to give you another chance.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: While spending 6 months in Zurich, Switzerland, I had the opportunity to attend to one of the country’s impressive street parties – the Züri Fäscht. Basically, the city center is taken over by thousands of people that enjoy the fireworks, the day time activities, food stalls offering world cuisine and, overall, the incredible night life. Yes, that’s right – Zurich becomes a great place to party! Bars and restaurants put their speakers and tables out on the street, and cheerful people dance on the tables drinking out of oversized cocktail glasses. The event is so big that the city only can allow it to take place every three years – next one in 2013!

Bridge - 80 meters above the Massa river, Switzerland

F: Favorite mode of transportation: For walkable distances… I’d choose my own feet. Walking turns me into an explorer, seeking for those details – like street art, boutique shops or a secret bar, for example – one otherwise wouldn’t notice.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: I feel great whenever I travel to a country in which I don’t speak the language, and still manage to communicate with the locals. Las year in Venice, I made my best on putting together the few words I knew in Italian and try to build sentences that actually made sense. I found that Italians really appreciated my effort and were much more welcoming and helpful than I heard about. The same happened to me in Paris this February (who said Parisians are arrogant?).

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: Difficult to choose… I’m not sure whether this would be Sevilla, Spain or Thailand. The temperature in Sevilla was a whooping 44ºC, but Thailand, while probably only reaching 35ªC, had an extremely high humidity, which made me feel suffocated!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: The best service, so far, has been in Thailand. Locals were friendly, helpful and very welcoming – plus, they always greeted us with a smile! (something that, unfortunately, is not the case in many places in Europe).

J: Journey that took the longest: Easy one – my route from Queenstown, New Zelanad to Lausanne, Switzerland! I took an internal flight from Queenstown to Auckland, then one to Sydney, a connection flight to London (stopping for 3 hours in Singapore), another flight from London to Geneva and then a train from Geneva to Lausanne. I literally lost track of how many days it had took me back home… what I do remember was the extreme jet-lag – I went to work right the next morning and treated my computer screen like a touch screen (like those you have on long flights, where you can choose which movie to watch).

K: Keepsake from your travels: I collect jewelry. I can’t remember of any place where I didn’t purchase a ring, necklace, bracelet or earrings. My obsession is such, that I even buy my treasure while on a work trip!.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: Puerta del Sol, Madrid. I feel bad each time someone visits Madrid for the first time and insists on going to see Puerta del Sol. First, all its surroundings are clear low quality tourist traps and second, there’s nothing special to see! Yes, Puerta del Sol is from where all roads start in Spain, the so called Km 0 – but besides for a plaque on the ground (which is rather hard to see because of the herds of tourists), there’s not much to see or do. Plus: it’s probably the one place to get mugged!

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: I can’t really remember a moment when I didn’t love travelling!

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: The nicest hotel I’ve stayed in is probably the Indigo Pearl in Phuket, Thailand. Not only did the hotel have the most incredible breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen (plus succulent courses on thai cooking!), but also did our room have a private outdoors sun bed and bath tub overlooking a tropical garden!

Spanish Food, Madrid, Spain

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Whether this is in a restaurant, home cooked or in a farmers market – I hardly can resist taking pictures of food!

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?: Uhmmm.. my last passport had stamps from Hong Kong, Macao, Brazil, Lebanon, Thailand and the USA. Since then, I have a new one that has stamps for Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand and USA (again).

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: When I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland I spent many rainy days searching for art exhibitions. The city has a couple of nice museums, but there is nothing like the Collection del’Art Brut. The gallery exhibits art created by societies outcasts (mostly psychiatric patients) who expressed their emotions, wonders and pain through paintings, sculptures and other creations. My favorites included a guy obsessed with dates – he created huge paintings using certain date patterns (ex. only wednesdays) and a man who built a real size horse out of tree branches he collected from his psychiatric’s garden. It’s really worth visiting – it was the most exciting exhibition I’ve ever been to!

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Again, food. I could live without electricity, sleep in a tent at 40ºC or share a room with 6 strangers if I had to – not that I choose this deliberately, but I rather save some pennies on accommodation and so be able to spend it on a big paella at the beach, eat fresh fish and have a couple of local beers instead.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: This June, I traveled to Lisbon to visit a good friend of mine. While she was working, I got on a hop on and hop off bus, and I don’t regret it! It gave me a broad overview of the city, and I got off on those stops with the most interestinf sights – this is how I found out about manueline architecture!

Scuba Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

U: Unforgettable travel memory: Scuba diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil – my favourite bit being the time we got into a strong current that literally swept us peacefully along the way. We could exit and enter the current as we wished, and occasionally did so to stalk a sea turtle or stare at lively and colourful fish. When being swept by the current, I felt like one of the surfing sea turtles in Nemo, the movie. It almost felt surreal!

V: Visas, how many and for where?: I’ve had visas for Australia, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Hong Kong and USA, as far as I can remember.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?: I love albariño, a type of grape that grows in Galicia, north-west Spain, and the north of Portugal. The wine is very light and quite acid, and goes incredibly well with scallops or oysters.

View from the Empire State Building, New York

X: eXcellent view and from where?: I’ve seen many wow views during my travels, but one of the most impressive ones ever was from the top of the Empire State during sunset. The afternoon was clear and we had a great view over the city – which looked even more romantic covered up with snow!

Y: Years spent traveling?: I’ve been traveling on and off since I was born – but the longest time I’ve spent actually living away from home so far has been 9 years.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?: I was never as excited as I felt when I watched Spain beat Holland in the World Cup! It was a shame that I couldn’t fly to Madrid – but watching it on a terrace in Lausanne with many other spanish (and dutch) expats had no price! Hundreds of people (not only spanish) flooded the streets of the city to celebrate victory – there was even a brazilian comparsa!

I would love to see the Travel ABC’s of:

Picture This: After the Rain

Rainbow after the Rain, London

I watch the news every morning while I’m having breakfast. I read the Economist on my bus ride to work. Once at my desk, one of my screens will shows the latest happenings in the economic and financial markets. Let’s say - I’m exposed to lots of new information, all the time. I love reading articles on new scientific discoveries or successful business cases. However, in current times, I find it increasingly difficult to spot some positive news.

With the thought of an eventual break-up of the euro, constant talks about a double-dip recession, Greece’s possible default, fears of Italy following (and being too big to be bailed our by its neighbors), top french banks being downgraded, I find it hard to keep my attitude positive.

Now that the euro zone is in a death spiral*, how can anyone remain optimistic?

I took the picture from my office on one of those miserable days filled with hopeless news. It reminded me that, in the same way that after the rain there will be a glowing rainbow; things will eventually get better – dark, wet and cold days won’t last forever.

Note: Watching a beautiful rainbow from a skyscraper does make me smile (as does an unexpected sun ray!). However, many other days I find myself wondering whether the prophecy of the World coming to an end on the 21st of December 2012 may be somehow related to the euro crisis. It would be quite timely!

*Source: The Economist, 9th of November 2011.

Why I Chose to Go East

Old Street, London

Moving to London is a big deal, you know.While Lausanne was scarce in available (and affordable) apartments, London may have just too many.

When I started searching for a flat back at the beginning of August, I first was overwhelmed with all the options. I had to choose a borough, and check the crime rate and council tax. Then I scanned through all sort of flats on a broad price range. I noted the street name of those flats that seemed to fit my requirements and checked for public transport nearby. I then took a virtual walk along the street using Google Maps and then realized that I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking alone that street in the dark and started all over with a different borough.

Although I started my search in West London – in fact, I wanted to live in Marylebone (a girl can dream big, can’t she?) – I soon started to feel attracted to the East. I liked the casual trendiness of Brick Lane, the young crowds around Old Street, the many galleries and food markets, the second hand shops around Angel station… It somehow felt right – even though I had to give up on some of my initial requirements (like for example, living on walking distance from work and, uhm, having a balcony).

I’m growing into this area.

…Walks along the canal on a clear day…

Regent's Canal, London

…Watching white swans…

White Swan, Regent's Canal, London

…suddenly finding one of Bansky’s many art works…

Street Art, London

I’ve realized that there is so much more to the East than trendy Brick Lane (and there’s probably still a lot to discover!). Streets may not be always beautifully assorted with white victorian houses facing to their communal garden, but it does have a lot of art and history behind it’s brick walls and stone streets.

It may not be what I had pictured before my arrival, but I like it.

On The Feeling of Home-Coming

Betzi, My Cat (Tenerife, Spain)

Since I moved away from Tenerife 9 years ago, I’ve lived in 9 apartments, in 6 different cities in 3 countries. The longest I have stayed in one apartment has (unfortunately) only been two years. I’m used to change and adapt quickly to new environments.

I’ve always seen change as an exciting factor of my life. My life outside of Tenerife has been full of end dates and new beginnings – some of them were real, and others I simply set in my head.

Change has kept me from settling down. It has continuously given me the feeling of being an explorer instead of part of the new community.

I was an exchange student in Germany and an expat in Switzerland. As much as I’d like to, I can’t call any of these countries home.

Home is where I know the streets, where I feel safe. It’s where friends and family greet my return. Where time can pass by, but whats important will still remain the same. It’s that place that, as soon as you arrive, you feel as if you had never left.

Home is Tenerife – where my family lives. Where I grew up and went to school. It´s where I know where and what I want to have for dinner before landing at the airport. The place that makes me cry each time I have to leave.

But Home, for me, is also Madrid – where my friends reside. Even though I’ve only lived in Madrid for 4 years, it really got under my skin. I fell in love with the city (despite it being far from the ocean!). This wouldn’t have been the case if I hadn’t met my friends – who adopted me as an outsider and treated me as a madrileña. Soon I realized that, while school friends who had also decided to study in Madrid returned back home the same day they wrote their last exam, I was staying a couple more days or eventually returning in the middle of summer holidays. Madrid is the place I want to return to some time in the future. It’s where I see myself settling down.

It is comforting to have the feeling of home-coming in two different places. I guess it makes it easier to deal with home sickness – I have the choice of 4 major airports of departure and 2 (highly demanded) destinations. There will always be an easy escape.

Note: I escaped to Tenerife and Madrid a couple of weekends back and should now have enough energy to start posting about London.