How I was a Hamburger for the weekend

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Hamburg on a work assignment. I asked to be flown in there a day earlier, on Saturday, so I could explore on my own for a day before getting down to business. So one fine morning, half-asleep, with a cold to boot, I ventured to Heathrow to visit Germany for the first time in 2 years (after US, I think Germany has been the second most-visited country of mine).

One Lufthansa trip later (more on that in the next few posts), I got there. My first impression of Hamburg is excellent. The city is extremely clean, well-put together, lively but not overpowering, and has the overall air of undercover trendy. You gotta know places. The architecture is crisp – there are nods to the past, and pride in the future, a lot of new buildings. In fact, now that I think of it, it’s the lack of old builds (like in Brussels or Paris) that makes me think of Hamburg as a future-forward place.

1500-Hamburg-Speicherstadt-1500x990

Elbe seen from one of the bridges, courtesy of Arcotel Hotels

Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and sixth largest in Europe. It’s a media and industrial centre. Largest European publishing house and largest European copper recycler are established there. Hamburg is proud of its port, which the second largest in Europe. The city was one of the key centres of the Hanseatic League in the good ole days, and the references remain to this day. By the way, German airline Lufthansa is also a nod to the past (Luft + Hansa).

Trade1500

Hanseatic League cities highlighted in red. Photo courtesy of http://faculty.cua.edu/

What did I do on my first day in Hamburg. From the Lindner Hotel, where I was staying, I wanted to walk to find Cafe Paris. I asked the concierge where it was, and she directed me to the Rathaus area, saying that it’s nearby… She didn’t specify where exactly it would be, however, so I kept wandering around hoping that my intuition would lead me to it. It didn’t.But I found the Rathaus.

After failing to find the elusive Cafe Paris (without a map or even a knowledge of the street it’s on), I gave up and went straight to Currypapa for some good ol’ currywurst, which I haven’t had since Berlin, 2011. Food chain or not, it was tasty

Panorama+Currywurst

Currywurst, nom nom. Courtesy of: Hamburg.de

As I walked through the streets near the Rathaus square, I was happy to hear so many foreign languages. Lots of Russians and Spanish (again and again, on all my trips in the past half a year, there have been lots of Spanish and Russian). I seemed to wander around the shopping area even though I don’t like shopping. I thought that maybe Adidas originals would be cheaper in Germany, but no, they were not. Moreover, the selection was dysmal. I immeditely ran out of the shop.

Wi-fi barely exists in the publics pace in Hamburg. Beware! It’s generally a trend in Western Europe (Budapest, on the other hand, has wi-fi spots in almost every bar and restaurant). But if you like art? Boy, are you in a right place for art. I almost derailed from walking around the Old City and went into the Kunsthalle for Giacometti and retrospectives on a number of German artists. Save that for a rainy day. That being said, make sure you pop into Deichtorhallen for a peek at contemporary and international talents. It’s a beautiful building and an excellent collection of art. I enjoyed every single artists showing as part of the New Germany photography exhibit. And there was an Albert Watson retrospective.

kate-moss-albert-watson-marrakech

Kate Moss by Albert Watson. Photo from lascerezasdexondica.wordpress.com

watson-christy

Christy Turlington by Albert Watson. Photo courtesy of vistek.ca

At the end of my walking tour, I noticed Joe & The Juice coffee shop, of which I only heard and knew from the sticker that my ex-boyfriend stuck on a Polaroid camera that he took with him to Copenhagen in 2006. So although I knew about the coffee shop for ages, I’ve never been, so I popped in. Even coffee shops in Hamburg play excellent music. I was greeted with mellow house sounds of Cyril Hahn (never heard of him! But since the first encounter in Hamburg, he’s been popping up on my radar, and I’ll most likely see him at Parklife in Manchester). Good-looking barista turned up the music when he saw me wiggle a bit.

After a daytime walk, I returned to the hotel to prepare for dinner at Brachmanns Galeron in St Pauli with my colleague. My German friend who used to live in Hamburg describes the restaurant as the place where cool people go for dinner. Yelp describes the place as a contemporary German cuisine. Sounds good to me. The highlights of the meal was Gruner Veltliner by the glass and a legendary Käsespätzle. I can be seen hovering over the entree in the dark here:

brachmanns galeron

My lovely collegue Anna-Lena took me around some bars in Reeperbahn and then St Pauli. While I did not particularly enjoy the former, I liked the later and in particular the Toast Bar with which we capped off the night.

Unfortunately my cold got worse the day after a Saturday outing and I spent all of the rainy Sunday trying to get better and preparing for my client presentation on Monday.

The time I had a martini with Mrs James Brown at Hotel Bel Air

One time I was invited to a wedding in Los Angeles. This was back in 2007, when I was young and vulnerable, at that impressionable age when brushing with semi-famous people was pretty cool (probably still is for some people; I mean look at how they recite the names of Jersey Shore and American Idol participants – who are they anyway?).

No matter. The wedding took place at the Bel Air hotel, the day is June 1, the time is roughly 6 or 7, and it’s a perfect evening in California. The palm trees are everywhere in sight, so are dark pastels, I’m wearing a sexy white dress (is the non-bridal white a taboo? No matter) and it’s the hors d’oeuvres time in the grassy area around the Bel Air Hotel. The wedding ceremony finished, and the happy couple looked like this:

The wedded pair are doing photos, guest books are being signed, and everyone is waiting for the wedding party to get back. Or have they just gotten back? As I chomp down a cheesy puff that is also probably spiced with gold dust, I see a worried bridesmaid running up to me. Her name is Gaia and she is terrified, because she took a bite of her cheese puff and the gooey inside projectiled onto her shinyish brown bridesmaid dress (not my ideal choice).

Image

This was not that wedding, but you get the idea. Swans, seats, romance at Bel Air.

“Karin, can you go with me to help fix this?” she says tipsily, because the wedding party was in a limo all day, rolling around LA and drinking whiskey.

“Sure”, I say. And we walk to the ladies toilets at Hotel Bel Air.

I have to admit that I was doing a lot of eye rolling at that moment, but I was also holding a grudge at my boyfriend at the time (which is why I was at the wedding in the first place), and wanted to get away. He was in the wedding party and nowhere in sight.

We enter the toilet and Gaia excitedly talks the whole time we are there. I propose napkins, I propose water, we discuss my relationship briefly (Gaia brings it up), when the door opens and two things happen:

A beautiful, tall, long-haired redhead walks in a sexy pencil skirt, lovely top, fishnets and fierce Yves Saint Laurent heels that I immediately know were in May’s issue of Vogue. I’ve got a great photographic memory, and those heels were all the rage in 2007. She eyes me, says in a deep, seductive and velvety voice: “Nice hair”, and walks into a stall.

I melt.

Second thing: an African-American woman in a flowerful (that’s right) turban walks in. I am completely startled also by the fact that she is wearing a long mermaid skirt emblazoned with tropical fruits and flowers, plus a bikini top.

I am embarrassed to say it, but seeing the two of them together, the first thing I thought was, “Is there a gay party happening at the Bel Air tonight?” And an air of excitement filled the room.

The woman in the turban says, “Do you know who that is?”

“No”, we both say, mesmerized. I’m sitting on the bathroom counter, waving my legs in white heels that match the dress.

“That was Mrs James Brown”, says the flower lady in a loud whisper.

I immediately think “Right”, and then: wait, I’m in Los Angeles, Hotel Bel Air, it is summer and James Brown died on Christmas 2006. Where does this go now?

Mrs James Brown emerges and pays attention to us. The wedding party girl squeaks about her cheese puff problem. “Oh, we can help you,” and they shoot a barrage of stain removal advice. I have to admit that I must have been tipsy at the time or it was a long time ago and I don’t remember all this very well.

Mrs James Brown calls the Bel Air concierge from the toilet and asks her to bring some soda water and a hair dryer. This happens.

Gaia, the bridesmaid, is so grateful that she exclaims that she must buy Mrs James Brown and – drumroll…. guess who we are with? Princess Selassie of Ethiopia, or so she says and I have no reason not to believe her – a drink. Princess Selassie looks suspiciously like this, and apparently she was on Real Housewives of New York (I’m not surprised):

So we all make our way to the Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar not too far away. It looks like this:

Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar

Bridesmaid recommends an apple martini to Princess Selassie and to Mrs James Brown, whose real name is Tomi Rae Hynie, and apparently they never heard of those. “Really?” I think. I highly doubt that, but hey, if the ladies want to play the part, that’s absolutely fine.

Gaia goes to pay for the drinks and she is upset that the cost is $80 for four martinis. Sounds about right, but at the age of 2o or 22, that is a huge chunk of money. Realistically, you could have bought 1.5 bottles of Veuve Clicquot at the store, so that counts for something too.

We return to the table and converse with the women. All the celebrity crap, B-A-C, whatever, aside – the women were kickass. They talked to us about the importance of career, about not letting the man trample all over you, girl power, being independent, strong and more. We also exchange phone numbers (really? That did happen, I had the Princess’s number and Tomi Rae’s number down), and we were invited to a couple of jazz shows and some other events.

I have to say that Tomi was at the time embezzled in a vicious battle of James Brown’s estate (read more here), and she was really pushing the story on us too. Which is fine. I would probably also go for the money had my late husband died and I wanted to take care of my kid, James Brown II.

What else? A great evening. The Bel Air Hotel lounge is beautiful, and it was filled with dark types that – in my young digital mind – resembled the smoky, analog Hollywood era long gone. I swear I saw a mafia guy or two.

“There you are!” yelled the wedding planner. Our dreamtime had to end. “You should return to the wedding.” A wedding planner was telling US what to do. If it happened today, I’d slap the living hell out of that woman. But we obliged and went to the wedding banquet area.

Everybody heard of our adventures by now (bless me and my BBM abilities of 2007).

The first song that the wedding DJ played?

This: 

PS. Random little observation. Tomi Rae’s hair colour darkened from the same bright that I had to a more somber color (like me). Could it be that we were using the same L’Oreal Feria brand and then had to stop?

Adventures in Lisbon with the friendliest explorers

CNV00021

On the back streets of Alfama

My experience in Lisbon had been of a rather curious nature. A lot more random and distressing things happened to me there than in any other place (apart from Brussels trip, on which my companion and I met an apparently famous flutist, an old British womanizer type, and proceeded to go for drinks with him and his very strange mate).

For starters, I became enamored with soft toned buildings and laundry hanging off every window. When I was in Alfama visiting the Castelo de Sao Jorge, I counted 22+ drying sets of laundry seen in every direction.

Image

The houses of Bairro Alto

Image

Alfama streets

Cobbled paths were a bit of a challenge with a carry-on suitcase though.

I talked to and met a lot of Portuguese people, starting with Regina, my very warm and friendly AirBnB host (check out her Bairro Alto room for rent here) and continuing with her Ukrainian roommate (what a pleasant surprise, we spoke Russian most of the time), her boyfriend, friends, mother and random people Regina and I met on the street.

One of the most striking features about Lisbon (and I assume, Portugal overall) is how friendly everyone was. Portuguese are a warm bunch. They are also proud of their heritage, cultural contributions, naval achievements and geographic discoveries.

When I saw the river Tagus view from the hills of the city (Lisbon is nicknamed as the City of Seven Hills), there was no question about it: If I had to see this all my life, I, too, would want to set sail and explore the world on ship. So hats off to the Portuguese for venturing out on our behalf. Are you not surprised that Lisboa’s other nickname is Queen of the Sea?

Image

View from Alfama; river Tagus in the background

I arrived at the cusp of November and December and, despite the sun on photos, it was pretty cold there. But I didn’t give up. I took a cable car to Alfama to explore the Sao Jorge castle and surrounding areas. Of particular interest was the Conserveira de Lisboa, which has been in operation for 80 years. It’s full of bespoke canned seafood products, and you can watch old ladies wrap sardines, octopus and other goodies in beautifully designed wraps (which I’m going to put on my wall as art pieces):

Source: Lisboa Diarios http://lisboadiarios.blogspot.com/

I recommend taking a small picnic to the Castle and surrounding grounds so you can enjoy breathtaking views without going hungry or thirsty. I also recommend overcoming any fears of heights and climb as many stairs as you can to experiencing what it might have felt like to be a arrow-shooting guard on duty.

CNV00001

Took me a while to wait for the flag to move. This is from the castle’s highest point.

CNV00004

About to enter the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Notice a figure eyeing us from the top.

I did not go into as many restaurants as I usually do when I travel, but one particular spot that stood out was The Decadente, which recently won a Best Restaurant award. Rightly so. Make a reservation and definitely try the pork belly on the menu. More photos can be found here.

Why are all these photos taken with what looks like a film camera? Sadly, my iPhone 4S was stolen by a pickpocket. My guard was down, I was too distracted in a busy cafe (at A Padaria Portuguesa, you might want to be more careful there), and someone took it. It was one of the most unpleasant feelings in my life. I won’t go into my feelings about the loss, but I’ll say that it me a day to regroup and equip myself with paper maps and disposable cameras!

On a Monday night, my last one in Lisboa, Regina took me out to have some of the best traditional Portuguese meat at Toma La Da Ca restaurant in Bica neighborhood. Cheap and plentiful food. We then ventured out to a Library Bar (one of the few bars that allow smoking indoors – take note, smokers) to meet up with friends before heading to an amateur drag queen night, some of which you can see below:

CNV00013

Things you must do in Lisbon as recommended by me:

  • Stay in Bairro Alto, which is a nightlife central; it’s densely packed, all you need is within the perimeter of 4 streets.
  • Dine at El Decadente restaurant.
  • Have pastries for breakfast and do not overestimate the freshness of seafood shops. I found excellent cod and octopus salads at a seafood shop on Rua Loreto near the Largo Luis de Camoes square in Chiado.
  • Venture out to Belem for a day: see the Jeronimos Monastery, get your contemporary art fix at the Berardo Collection Museum, and stuff yourself with the tasty Pasteis de Belem, like myself over here:
  • If you are into dancing, go to LUX Fragil club; it’s co-owned by John Malkovich and even though the club is not new, it is still high on the list of excellent interior design jobs.
  • Catch some fado especially at dinner. But try to avoid tourist traps as they will overcharge you.

Few more shots:

CNV00015

Tower of Belem

CNV00017

Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

CNV00019

Electricity Museum in Belem. Great contemporary art exhibits!

CNV00014

Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Belem

Any questions? Just ask :)

All photos copyright Karin Abramova

20 Things to Do in Bogotá Before I Die

By Andres/Karina

1. Start a fire
2. Mushrooms
3. Create and/or follow a riot
4. Kidnap a Colombian
5. Exchange more dollars
6. Drink aguardiente
7. Assault a midget
8. Go to a silent play
9. Get a tennis lesson at a country club
10. Eat ajiaco soup
11. Get a tarot card reading
12. See a cock fight
13. Go to a bull fight
14. Take photos of street art
16. Go to the Botero museum
17. Find nonexistent stamps in an attempt to send a postcard back
18. Haggle over an item at a flea market
19. Buy South American music records
20. Write a list of things to do in Bogotá before I die.