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Dartmoor get-away

31 Aug

I spent a few days in the South West of England, in Devonshire. Just me, my bike and my rain jacket πŸ˜‰

Very recommended in this area: The book ’50 Hikes across Devon’, a lunch at the Warren House Inn, the Youth Hostel in Bellever (great fireplace and no mobile phone coverage!).

Stockholm

15 Jul

In July I attended the wedding of my friends near Stockholm and took the opportunity to see the city and meet old friends. Here are the pictures of my trip through the city and its surroundings.

My first impression was that there’s a lot of water. The city itself is built across a dozen islands, which gives it a unique flair. An island for museums, one for swimming, one for the old town, one with a natural park, you name it. Approaching the airport, you fly across the archipelago with thousands of them! Very beautiful πŸ˜€

I heard a lot about high equality between women and men in Scandinavia, but seeings the uncomplicated way of dealing with femininity with my own eyes was just liberating: Women are cycling with flying mini skirts and no one gives a second look. Male toilets with nappy changing unit. Ladies toilets have simple plastic bags as bins and not those “automatically disinfecting, push the pedal, then put your pad on the flap bins” you see else often. Adults simply change into swim gear on the cities beaches and again: no stares.

The most remarkable thing about Stockholm to me was that they have instituted a sort-of human right of access to a bicycle. You simply pay 32 Euros and you get access to rental bikes for 6 months! And not those annoying 30-minute slots common across the big cities in the West – no, you get the bike for 3 hours straight!

What do do in Stockholm?

Visit the parliament for a free tour in English! Very recommended for its beautiful view from the 6th floor and the architecture. It was also very interesting to hear a few facts about democracy. For example only in Sweden and Norway the parliamentarians are sitting organized by region not by party! There’s a ladies room in the parliament showing pictures of famous “first women” in Swedish politics. The room also features a mirror, where female visitors can see the reflection of the potential future prime minister of the country. A fantastic conversation to have with school classes and other groups of visitors!

Don’t miss out on a drink on a boat bar near the old town, watching the sun set slowly between 9pm and midnight. You’ll walk home in the twilight, it just doesn’t get dark in summer in Sweden!

I also did the early morning boat tour, getting a nearly undisturbed insight into smaller islands. Below are some pictures of the defense equipment still installed on the island to protect Stockholm city (but unused).

Another highlight for me was the museum of photography with a great video installation about Chinese migratory workers.

On the day of the world cup final we were lazying around with the German friends and family of the couple. We ended up playing football. As i was in a dress and flip flops, I started carefully at first to test the shoes. Later I even scored with the left foot. We had a couple of trees on the pitch, which made it even more exciting and surreal.
Another exciting physical challenge came in form of “a slackline”. We tried to walk across a rope spread between two trees.
This weekend I really found new joy about physical mastery which I hope to continue in London πŸ™‚

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4 relaxing days on Menorca

12 May

Together with my friend Caroline I went on a long weekend trip to Menorca. As the spring season had just started, we were nearly alone in the hotel, the beaches, the car parks… Instant relaxation! We enjoyed the history, amazing food and landscape.

Colour code = blue, green and white!

When it’s raining flowers

22 Apr

A garden museum near Waterloo station? In an old church next to a palace?
How random, but triggering our interest to enter.

And suddenly it was raining flowers on us!

Let’s treat ourselves and enjoy small joys like world wonders!

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A day with mum and the Seven Sisters

21 Apr

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My mum visited for Easter and with another friend we visited England’s south coast. Three German ladies out in the wild.

A lovely day on the cliffs imagining life on the south downs with lots of sheep before electricity and piped water.

Skewed memories

11 Apr

Isn’t it strange what happens when you go back to a place you visited in your childhood?

Everything seems bigger in memory than to your mature eye today.

It’s much less of a movie scenery but much more of a processed reality.

Walking on a pebble beach was more fun, now it feels more of a muscle workout.

Reminder to self: Memories are just where you laid them. Don’t stop creating new ones!

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Spring

16 Mar

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Spring time when the birds sing louder than the planes
A million small buds blossoming over night
One for every person happy to leave the coat at home
The sky is blue with small white clouds
The first bicycle ride and hair dancing with the wind

You own the road, the park and the bench
Eyeing trees, traffic lights and the grass
Like checking your estates after the long winter
Courteous bus drivers are paid with a smile
After all spring is in the air
It’s for all to see!

Three days in Yucatan

25 Feb

Together with two of my colleagues I spend a few days in Yucatan, Mexico. One Mexican, a Brazilian and a German girl driving around to experience the beautiful landscape, learn about pre-Colombian culture Maya and relax with sun and good food.

It was a great short holiday, and I got the opportunity to practice my Spanish πŸ˜‰

On the first day we drove to Celestun at the coast and took a boat trip around a bioreserve. We saw flamingoes, many other birds and a crocodile. We were even able to swim in beautiful clear water and do some team building on ropes where usually snakes and crocodiles rest (as we were told after the swim). The day ended with delicious seafood on the beach.

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On the second day we visited the historic Maya site Chichen Itza. It was a wonderful experience walking between the different buildings built on ample space often stopping at market stalls. It’s easy to see how proud and advanced culture the Maya culture was during their high time 1000 to 500 years ago. At night we went to the ecotouristic lodge in Ek Balam village where my colleague had volunteered years ago. Far from big city lights we saw millions of stars above us. (Un-)fortunately the cabins were full, but the hospitable community members (literally) hooked us up with hammocks in the laundry room. Quite comfortable!

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On the last day we visited a “Conote” (sink hole) which is like a cave under the surface usually filled with water. I was able to swim in the clear water with sun rays falling through the whole in the cave ceiling. We had arrived with a few Maya friends of my colleague who had dressed up in warrior wear to take pictures in and near the conote. It was a lot of fun especially as buses of tourists from Cancun arrived and wanted to take pictures with the Mayas. In the afternoon we drove up to Rio Logartos on the Golf Coast. Local families were spending the Sunday at the beach and after a swim and a delicious dinner we witnessed a mind blowing sunset. A miraculous ending to our short holiday.

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Chicago… and love!

7 Oct

A trip to the US. Immediately upon arrival there’s a slight refreshing difference to the UK. Instead of signs saying “Don’t offend our staff. We’ll press for the highest charges!”, we can read “Our pledge to the visitors”.

Welcome to the new world!

My responsible immigration officer speaks German (“You’ve got to learn something on this job!”) and although Omar doesn’t drink alcohol he loves German beer and lists a few non-alcoholic brands from the top of his head. After translating for a French tourist in search of his suitcase (picture me standingΒ  between two massive black guys, one French and confused, the other one American and longing for shift-end), I head out.

Here I am, in JFK longing for oxygen and four hours until my connecting flight to Chicago. Waiting at the gate looks like wasted time and with the sun up and shining a trip to the waters surrounding Long Island is enticing.
150 bucks for a brief beach return trip? The natural way the taxi driver offers it shows that somebody spending this much is in the range of the possible.

Well, I head to the trains instead, immediately mingling with local blue-collar workers. I get tips on the best beach views, and after hearing I flew in from London, a guy asks me “Did you English ever forgive the Germans for what they did to you?”. What a package to receive! I replied putting on my best London accent.

I caught some breathtaking glances at the ocean before going back to the airport on a train with around 150 school kids – why am I mentioning that they were all black? Because I thought I was going to the US, not to Kenya and I can’t help but noticing the huge split between communities: who lives where, who eats what, who takes which jobs, who transports themselves how. I’m wondering how many decades it will take to see changes on this one.

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The first day in Chicago was amazing. It was sunny and warm, so I explored the city walking between the skyscrapers, relaxing at the Magnificent Mile with a Salted Caramel Mocha, taking in the exchange between tourists, shoppers, beggars and business people. I went along the harbor and the pier past the Museum Mile. I even took a (refreshing) bath in Lake Michigan and ended up sunbathing while watching the skyline. People on the street looked me straight into the face (difference 2 to London, where staring at the pavement while walking is socially acceptable) and after just few hours I felt home and welcome.

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During dinner in a great Italian restaurant I chatted with a lady sitting next to me (a kindergarden teacher well above 50) and we had such a good chat she ended up giving me a gift from the Chicago Institute of Art. I wondered when last I had such a random conversation with no influence of alcohol πŸ˜‰

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For the second day I decided to be a bit more adventurous and use the DIvvY city bicycles. This meant I could get around much faster, so I went to see the lions in the zoo, to the 95th floor of the Hancock building, the Chicago History Museum and a lot of other things.

Cycling is easy because most roads are one way streets and people are much calmer and more relaxed than in NY. I found the best part about the traffic rules to be junctions with stop signs on all four entries of the junction (only Germans may relate to this).

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If you want some tech nostalgia, watch the bridges go up at 9am for high boats to pass. Two teams of 20 engineers each pull up the 28 bridges every day and thus stop traffic in the city for a good 30 minutes.

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I was able to secure a reduced ticket for a blues musical about Pullman porters. A great evening about work and livelihoods, racism and conflicts between generations, about fatherly love and a lot about the Blues spirit. On leaving the theatre, I was back to reality: Dozens of homeless were getting ready for a night in the park or on the riverside walk while a dad with his 7-year-old son still hadn’t given up hope to collect the 42 USD he needed for a hostel for the two from passers-by.

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For my last day I had plotted how to get to Indiana Dunes State Park for a more “rural” experience. (Google “Indiana d” and see what pops up… that’s some bad marketing for a state, I’d say!) I’m starting to give directions to tourists on the street, so getting on a commuter train to ride to Indiana feels like holidays on holidays.

We ride through bleak looking suburbs, where many houses remind me of the “ultimate house makeover”. We pass steel factories. In Ogden Dunes I get off and take a 20 minute stroll through the village to reach the beach.
I nearly can’t believe it, extremely white sandy beach with a Baltic Sea feel. From this wonderful beach we can see Chicago’s skyline at the horizon. I read the 7 habits of highly effective people and have loads of chats with locals who are enjoying their weekend on the beach (and gave me cold beer – gift 2 in three days).

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After I just decided to stay for another two hours before catching the train back, an old fragile looking couple comes to sit with me on a bench in the shade. We have great conversations about politics (he had followed the German elections closely), the world and my job (he was not surprised to hear about VC investments and Social Businesses in Emerging Markets). He had even heard of Stephen Covey’s book I’m reading!

I’m invited to spend the night at their house which I can’t because my flight to NY is at 6am the following day. At least I have to go to the village chilli cooking contest and take a glass of red wine at their house and look at the paintings (she’s an artist!). Well that sounds great I say and we drive off. A lovely house, speaking of a successful industry career and attention to detail as I haven’t seen it in years.
At the village party where I taste hot dogs with at least 10 variations of chilli con/sin carne, I realize what a big heart the lady has: Many people tell me of her acts for them and their families.

The lady tells me that she loves her husband of 49-years like on the day they met, when she was 16. She also tells me that he is dying of brain cancer and she takes him to the lake every day for the remaining three or so months. More than by hearing the details of the disease and seeing the comfortable life they created for and with each other I’m inspired by her commitment to him, to the community and to her art. She later thanks me via email for the wonderful gift of sweet distraction I gave to her husband through the discussions we had.

Back in Chicago I’m having lebanese takeaway dinner outside the hostel, it’s such a warm evening! I’m lost in thought until drops fall on my hands and I come to senses pondering if they are tears or rain.

Being an auntie

4 Aug

Two years after I left Uganda I came back to visit the city and my friends there.

The son of E. and P. was just five months old when I left, but now he was showing me around the house, running faster than me and telling me stories. We went to Lake Victoria together and he loved it even more than the aunties who went!

One day he’ll cross the Lake or the Ocean and we’ll all be even prouder of him πŸ™‚

Manu and J.