Friday, April 24, 2009


So now that I am back home I am of course reflecting on my travels - a reflection I had started about half-way through my trip. People ask how the trip was with the expectation that it was amazing, fantastic, incredible, etc. I feel like I have to say 'oh yes, it was wonderful' or they think i am a complete ingrate when they were at their desks working the whole time. Maybe I am completely spoiled, or maybe I just am getting to know the kind of travel I really like, but I wouldn't say this vacation was any of the aforementioned descriptors. It was definitely fun, somewhat relaxing, but also a little bit one-toned. In the past, I have visited friends in numerous locations, most of which I formerly lived in (Boston, NY, Chicago) - i didn't consider that travel, that was visiting. I have also traveled to new places where I didn't know anyone - predominantly by myself at least for the last five or six years. this is the first time I have traveled to new places I have wanted to visit AND had friends there as well. A melding of friend visiting and travel. I didn't have much time to contemplate this at all before I left because I was so horridly overworked. I didn't even buy guide books or do any research in part because I knew I would be staying with friends. In hindsight, this was a mistake. I should definitely have done my own research anyway and gone with some sort of agenda of what I wanted to see and do. There's no way my friends could know that! They certainly did a wonderful job of taking me places and showing me terrific sites with little to no guidance on my part.

I did learn a great deal though about what I am looking for when I travel - which is ultimately going to make my future time off that much better. I like difficulty. I like challenges. I like to be somewhat nervous in that excited anticipatory way the first time you try to speak a new language or navigate a new public transportation system or even just try to get yourself from point a to point b with no guidance. It's a puzzle - and i love a good puzzle. I like to wander aimlessly and I like to go on adventures. Even if they are only adventures to me! I never know when I am traveling what the experiences that leave lasting impressions will be, but my most memorable time in Portugal in 2007 was renting that piece of crap, 2-stroke engine toy car and driving across the northern part of Portugal for a day with a really old map and no actual destination. It was so beautiful and wonderful and difficult to read the map and signs simultaneously in Portuguese (which I do not come close to understanding) while navigating round-abouts and being utterly lost and yet somehow knowing where I was anyway. Being passed by old men on the highway and nearly blown off the road. Discovering windmill farms in the middle of nowhere and stormy tumultuous skies. Okay, that and getting drunk in Villa Nova De Gaia on Port wine. This trip was not like that. I hung out with my friends, visited a couple of museums and saw a few performances, drank wine at every possible opportunity, drank some more, ate food I would never eat here, suffered some ailments, slept, forgot about work for at least a day at times, played guitar hero, got drenched in the rain, got a real flavor for the cities, shopped, drank some more and got to know my friends better. Overall a success, for sure. However, not the type of experience I would choose again for my one 3 week vacation of the year. I guess I always assumed that traveling alone was something I was doing by default but now I think it is something i will do with intention. Sure, it gets a little lonely sometimes especially when I don't speak the language well, and for someone who lives alone, works from home and has a lot of solitary time to begin with my incessant chatter to myself can get to be a bit much. but overall i think the freedom and challenge really do invigorate and excite me. Next stop: South America.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Window or Aisle?

For the majority of my adult life, I nearly always choose an aisle seat - especially for flights over 2 hours. This is mostly because I feel a bit trapped and claustrophobic in a window seat. It's also because due to other issues, I need to drink a lot of water when I fly, which means many trips to the bathroom, and I can't stand bothering people when I need to go. Hence the aisle seat. Breaking from tradition I actually took a window seat the entire way back from london and I realize how much I missed looking out of the window! Admittedly there was nothing to see from London to Chicago, except a few brief glimpses of a very frozen looking Quebec and north-eastern Canada. The US is really truly an amazing piece of land. From the compulsively gridded midwest with the rivers and rivulets the only disturbance to the regularity, along with their crop circles which makes it look a bit like a piece of fabric from the 70's. To the Rockies which start as small ripples in sheets to the peaks of a rumpled velvet duvet. One of the most amazing sights are the infrequent cloud poofs suspended in a completely clear sky that look like they must be frozen in some sort of clear resin or glass that they don't just plummet to the ground. Some of the foothills look like a 100 mile long tractor rode over them leaving behind its rutted, monster tire tracks along the ridge lines. The mountains in colorado are nearly identical in color and texture to the ashed rind of the goat cheese we consumed in Berlin. Salt and pepper coloration with far more of the charcoal color punctuated by exposed slabs of creamy white on the plateaus. yum. The rivulets are branching out from their main stem like tree roots creeping towards the mountain tops. Then there are the brown lands as I like to call them that look like a mud flat full of partially submerged giant writhing lizards followed by the salt flats like an elephants hide covered in dried, cracked, flaking mud. Finally back over California and I wonder - what are all of those green mountains so close to San Jose with the cool little roads all over them? Then it occurs to me they are logging roads and I notice the reduced size of the nap on those hills. And last but not least the crazy colored pools cut into the very south end of the bay which are salt farms? rice paddies? Not sure what but they are quite large and three of them are bright red, two are chartreuse, the rest run the gamut of the blue, green, brown spectrum. So many interesting areas so close to home sweet home.


So my first impression of Berlin in comparison to Barcelona is the incredible difference in proportions. Berlin is definitely wider than it is tall, while Barcelona is much taller than it is wide. Buildings, roads, empty space, all of it. Berlin reminds me most of LA just in terms of its space – very large buildings that are very solid and rectangular and seem to weight down the entire block they run. And these, my friend, are not small blocks! Some seem to be half a mile long. No kidding. The streets themselves are incredibly wide – people park perpendicular to the street on *both* sides, and there’s still room for two lanes and a green space down the middle! Not to mention the sidewalks themselves could nearly all be two-lane roads. Even the small side streets are wider than most in San Francisco. Barcelona on the other hand has very, very skinny buildings, and even thinner streets. I don’t think I saw more than a few two lane streets the entire time I was there. Many of them even require three or five point turns to get around the corner - which is pretty hilarious to watch. This makes for very shaded tight feeling spaces which can be comforting but then again a bit restrictive. the perspective of only being able to view a building from at most ten feet away from it is very different than what the building would look like half a mile away. The inner spaces follow suit – giant, and I do mean giant apartments in berlin – and teeny, tiny apartments in Barcelona. Six of the Barcelona bathtub I had could fit in the berlin bathtub. Because of Berlin's wide open spaces and long, lumbering buildings it does certainly feel much heavier and more solid than barcelona, it's old, thin, dainty cousin. There's nothing dainty about Berlin, including its people!

The Germans have a really obvious group personality. They are really into rules and upholding of those rules for the sake of upholding them. Take crossing the street for example – the germans will not Jaywalk. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-way street you can see for miles down with nary a car in sight – they will *not* cross that street until the cross-walk light turns green. It blows my new Yorker mind – I can’t even conceive of such a thing. It’s not like they think a car is going to fall out of the sky and squash them if they do cross before it’s okay to, it’s just that they like to uphold rules. They also won’t smoke where they’re not allowed to (which is fantastic!), and as we saw a couple of times, if one German thinks another is doing something wrong, they will certainly be sure to let them know. As Shawn said - there is no sugar-coating here. Whenever I asked someone a stupid question, they were sure to answer me as if I were an idiot. One night in a bar I asked for a fork for my food, and the guy was like 'your fork is right here' and gave me a look like i had three stupid heads. I guess I hadn't looked at the bottom of the breadbasket to find it! He later warmed up to me though. You definitely need to have thick skin to live here. No lightening up the moment with a joke either, they are not jokers. It is refreshing though to have people be so straightforward, and being pretty tactless myself I certainly appreciated the directness. Of course I also couldn’t understand most of what was being said, so that may help too!

Everyone bikes here. Shawn and Flora convinced me I should rent a bike which I was apprehensive about 1) because no one wears a helmet except a few small children and 2) because the only time in the last 9 years I have ridden a bike was at Burningman on a very flat desert riding a no-gear heavy cruiser. With no vehicular traffic to speak of. It was so much fun! It took me a really long time to get used to the back pedal = brake idea. I tend to back pedal a lot during the normal course of biking and each time would get lurched forward until I trained myself not to do that. The really amazing thing is how integrated bikes and vehicles are here! Truly amazing. The cars completely respect the bikes, are aware of them, don’t hit them… don't open their doors without looking first... and there are bike lanes on *nearly* every road! Sometimes painted on the road, and sometimes a separate part of the sidewalk. Fantastic. I can’t imagine a day when it will like that in San Francisco, which is unfortunate because now I see how fun biking around a city can be.

The one thing about berlin I didn't get to participate in which was a slight disappointment is their intense ping pong matches. Parks have permanent stone ping pong tables! Even the women in work clothes, tight skirts and high heeled shoes pretty much kicked ass. I for one am a big sucker for ping pong. Ah well, something for next time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Not so much to say about Barcelona. I feel like I was somewhat robbed of the real feel of the city being there over the easter holiday since everything (and i do mean everything) is closed for not one, not two, but three days!! Can you imagine? they even made up a holiday - easter monday! I could not believe it. between that and the rain I think I had one day and a half that was beautiful weather and open businesses. It's hard to get the feel of a city when everything is boarded up with corrugated metal doors that are covering up completely unknown entities. They all look like collision repair shops until they roll-up their doors to expose the very varied interiors. I like the people of barcelona. I like their passion. never have i seen so many people making out so vigorously in public during the day. imagine the ravers in a dark corner of a club high on who knows what at 4am going at it and put them at a bus stop or in a pub at 2pm. shocking, but appealing nonetheless with such a care-less attitude. Bicing – the city bikes there completely kick ass. You can pay a nominal monthly fee and get a bike from a bike rack with the swipe of a card – the cool thing being the bike racks are huge (15-30 bikes on each) and every 4-5 blocks! Even though the woman whose room I was staying in left me her card, I must admit I hardly used the bikes – mostly because I like walking and it rained a lot. Tapas. Granted I am not eating gluten right now and all tapas technically comes on bread (or else it isn’t real tapas) but I was able to scrape off the top and eat it anyway. Very, very good and so beautiful to look at. Works of art some of them were. Gaudi. Of course you can’t go to Barcelona without a huge gaudi tour. I spent a fair amount of time traveling to different parts to see his park, sagrada familia, the two apartment buildings. And while I do think I like his work I also find it to be pretty busy (especially some of the tile work in the park) and definitely a bit much, especially the church. It will be a spectacle indeed when it is finally finished. I do think I probably short-changed some other architects though and in hindsight maybe should have checked out some other work, but I did get to walk around nearly all of the old city and saw a bunch of beautiful architecture, especially in the gothic quarter. Smoking. Everyone smokes. Everywhere. It really is awful. the house i was staying at was populated by 5 smokers, and they smoke as passionately as they do everything else. the room i was staying in had a door that didn't close or have a knob so i was inundated by a cloud of smoke every night. I, of course, am a spoiled Californian when It comes to that although London and Berlin are both smoke-free as well so maybe there is yet some hope for Spain following suit? Doubtful I guess as they already smoke in the very few places they are not allowed to - like in the train. I really like the public recycling receptacles everywhere. in berlin they even had a 4th receptacle for used clothing to donate! How cool is that?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Web Addiction

So I will be the first to admit I am completely addicted to Facebook. I can't even say how many times per day I check it (because I can't even admit that to myself), but it's often. Especially when I am working - it's great to distract myself briefly with someones new photos or perusing the new status updates which have come through. With nearly 500 friends it does mean that I miss many of the status updates just due to the sheer volume, but it entertains nonetheless. Of course having that many friends, or "friends" I should say, is part of the issue. How could I possibly have that many friends? I've even culled through and un-friended at least 50 people! I don't even think I know that many people. Do I want that many friends? No. Could I possibly keep in touch with that many people? Hardly. Do I have some voyeuristic urge to look through peoples profiles who I haven't seen in 20 years and didn't even necessarily know or like then? Yes, yes I do. Why? Boredom. Need for distraction. Some desire to see if they seem to be happier than I am. Of course that is utterly ridiculous since the photos people choose to post can hardly be indicative of their mental well-being, or even physical well-being. Who knows how old those photos are? I am curious though. It's the same reason I would go to a high school reunion - this is just one big virtual reunion for the classmates of John Jay.

That's one aspect of it - and then there's the reality that many people choose to post on my wall or send me messages instead of writing me emails anymore. I can't stand that. It's somehow even less personal than email - which in itself as we know is not very personal. People post status updates asking who wants to go to a movie that night or see a show or do some other activity. How would i even necessary see that? With as many "friends" as I have, I can only see the last 30 minutes of status updates at any given time - which frankly makes it not very useful. And the new interface? What a piece of garbage. Whomever took away all of the useful filtering functionality was a complete idiot. I would daresay their user testing group either 1) didn't exist or 2) was also a bunch of idiots. but I digress!

The problem here being my constant need to check facebook. Update my status. Pick a few people and read through their walls and look at their photos. WASTE OF TIME. I mean, with my complete lack of sleep and overabundance of work I still would have to check facebook a couple of times before I went to sleep - even if I was exhausted and had my eyelids closing as I tried to cram in one more wall-to-wall. So, I've decided I need to back off. It's so unhealthy as to be pathetic, really. At first I thought I wouldn't be able to do it (talk about a real addiction!) but then I realized it's actually easier than getting over most addictions. All I need to do is not log in. I'll admit the first couple of days were hard. Especially being on vacation now with little to do at night - but the relief I felt at not needing to use it far outweighed my bits of curiosity on what people were up to. It's been 3 days now going on 4 - with one last status update and I think I'm over the worst of the withdrawal. I'm going to need to be one of those people who logs in once a month, misses out on 20 events because people no longer invite you to things outside of facebook, and be okay with that. The Luddite in me is really, really happy with this decision. This is bringing much more of a separation of work and life as well - my life needs to be as far away from the computer as possible since my work is married to the computer. No PDA's, no email-ready devices, no computer except for work and the paltry amount of personal email I receive (none on most days). Living for me just can't be done through a computer, I need to remember that and keep my distance. I will always be a letter writing, phone calling friend at heart and hopefully in practice.

Monday, April 06, 2009


I thought for sure I could escape the stomach bug. or, rather, i was really hoping not to get it! jim sounded miserable the night before and I certainly had no interest in that. well, apparently other plans were laid for me, because i woke up at 2am with terrible stomach pain. but before i even realized that had happened (because waking up for me in the middle of the night always involves some serious confusion) i already knew i was sick - how you ask? because i had 'living on a prayer' in my head and it would NOT leave. I mean i tried every trick in the book to get it gone - yelling at it, putting replacement songs in, talking over it to drown it out and nothing worked. it had been the soundtrack (on an endless loop) in my head for my 2 hours of dreams prior - i was playing air drums to it in one dream i remember! so that's how i knew i must be sick. i never lose control over my brain's radio unless i am ill - and a fever is involved. sometimes when i was a kid i would get the a&w rootbeer jingle stuck, but i guess i just didn't know how to stop it then. so here i am with living on a prayer over and over and the most terrible stomach pains. oh, and hot sweats every minute or so along with nausea. perfect. it was almost a blessing i couldn't sleep through it because if i could have i would have had fever dreams. i have tried before to explain this to a couple of people with little to no success. so, being a glutton for punishment i will try again. fever dreams for me are metallic. meaning there is that quality to them - they are grey or silver tinged and dark and repetitive. nothing happens in a fever dream, or at least no plot moves forward. and no amount of waking up will change them to a new scene. once the fever starts to go color will return and plots will move forward, but until then it's like being in a robot's dream. none of that to worry about - because no sleep would come. too much pain.

luckily i was smart enough to stay in london through tuesday and take a mid afternoon flight so i will still be able to get out and about for some photography tomorrow morning before i head off to barcelona. this day is definitely not turning out as expected! the best laid plans...

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I have been so delinquent in writing it's damn near pathetic. Work has overrun my life as of late and writing is always one of the first things to go, whether it should be or not. I'm in London now - on a long awaited and much deserved vacation. A vacation I only began packing for 1.5 hours prior to departing San Francisco, which for those of you who know me even moderately well know that is entirely out of character for me. I didn't even make a packing list in my packing list notebook until the day before! luckily i had a prior europe list i just copied.

One of the interesting aspects of traveling is all of the things about myself that become so much more exaggerated. The constant run of life and meeting to meeting to meeting rat race really distract from listening to yourself and existing as a person rather than a part of a greater work whole. It is so hard for me to not do. I try not to do, and just be, but i wind up doing anyway. On this trip I am only working one day per week, yet I find myself curious about what work email may be waiting for me. It's hard to describe the dread each morning when I first open my work mailbox and all of the email starts loading. Especially when I have been up the night before working until 2am and a mere 6 hours later I have already accumulated 25 emails. Such is the problem with east coast clients! Can't I get a break? Oh, right, like this vacation? Part of me almost prefers just dealing with the email on a daily basis to keep it down to a manageable level and avoid the anxiety of a weeks worth of messages. But i know the only real way to forget about work and really enjoy this vacation is to just cut it off and deal with the repercussions later. That's so against my grain! It's really harder than you would think. So that's my first challenge. No work until next Thursday.

London is great, because I love my friends here and I always have so much fun visiting - they are the ultimate hosts. It feels like vacation, but it doesn't really feel like traveling yet. Mostly because I have already been here a number of times, and London is pretty similar to San Francisco save the architecture. and the hard core 80's styles. mc hammer pants have not quite made it across the pond into the mainstream just as of yet. thankfully.

I go to barcelona on Tuesday and berlin the following Tuesday. Two cities I have never been to before where I don't speak the language. Now that will feel like traveling. Not to mention visiting some more of my most favorite people. what a lucky girl i am!