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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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Adventures in Lisbon with the friendliest explorers

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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.

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The houses of Bairro Alto

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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?

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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.

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

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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:

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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:

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Tower of Belem

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Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

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Electricity Museum in Belem. Great contemporary art exhibits!

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Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Belem

Any questions? Just ask 🙂

All photos copyright Karin Abramova

London Calling

 

The moment it sunk in that I am moving to London, my memory sent an electric shock down my spine. I vividly recalled my obsession with the Great Britain, Londinium, United Kingdom, Big Ben, high tea. I  remembered that from when I was 11 till I moved to Canada (where new elements started occurring to me), I was completely bonkers about Britain! I wanted to live there, I wanted to be British, I wanted to brandish the Union Jack everywhere I could.

 

Let’s face it. 

 

I am moving TO LONDON! This is happening. 

 

I am so absolutely excited about the possibilities of London. Of the busy and dynamic current of lives that it is, of the immense history, world class culture of all types, of the multicultural mix of people that I am delighted to meet, of the prime location and Heathrow, Heathrow, Heathrow that is the hub to everywhere else in the world. One of my most amazing friends (Kat!) is living there right now, and she loves the city. My other European friends are a stones throw away. This is it. THIS is the change I’ve been wanting, THIS is the godsent gift to my present situation. This is the fate grabbing me by the the collar and presenting me with the pearl of my twenties. Living in London in your twenties is probably one of the best things that can happen. 

 

I am immensely grateful to life. I am immensely grateful to my company that is moving me to work in our London office (in Camden, no less!). I am excited! 

London Callings

Oh, crossing the streets is a major nuisance here. I feel like I’m breaking all sorts of laws when crossing. Even Zoe said that she still doesn’t quite know when she is allowed to cross or not, because very often the pedestrian light turns red, but so does the light for cars. This is when I usually run across. I’m obviously confused as to which way to look, but luckily there are directions painted on sides of the roads: “Look left”, “look right”. I find it strange that back in 1999 I didn’t find the “right” side of the road to be a problem. In Russia the same sides as in Canada and US are the “right” sides, but I never took notice. Perhaps I didn’t cross the streets enough.

Well, alas, tomorrow I have to return to North America. I may be that sapping young woman on a plane that everyone is going to think said good bye to her boyfriend and is now sad. Whilst in fact, I will be sad about leaving Europe. I’m from here, and I will be back (for good)! Terminator said so, and he returned, see.

Ah yes, stay tuned for the art and literature reviews. I picked up so many fabulous books! I’ll have to work my charms at the British Airways check-in desk tomorrow, making sure they don’t charge me extra for going over the allowed bag weight.

From one of my new acquisitions: “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the park. Aim for the company of immortals.” David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man.

You Sound Like Youre From East London

I just got a haircut from a man who’s been cutting hair for 28 years (including frou frou Kitsilano in Vancouver and 1985’s Spanish Harlem), and I realized than instead of going to hipstertown and seeking out the gayest, skinniest youngster with amazing hair, you should go to men of experience. Just make sure you explain your dreamcut really well. So yay to Islington’s Rough Cut!

I am currently sitting in Wellcome Collection, which is a unique mix of galleries, events and meeting, reading and eating places spread over six floors. Its goal is to engage public with health and well-being; it brings modern art, medicine and peoples ordinary lives to create and exciting place of interest. I am here, so should you when in London.

I went to Camden yesterday evening and had quite a good time. Besides picking up some flaming vintage pieces and trying Moroccan food (my next travel place of interest), I met some nice folks and managed to keep the happy hour prices in a bar way past the happy hour time. Camden is full of Italian daddy’s girls looking for bargains, handsome punks, prima donnas of the burlesque scene who will never see 30 again, skater boys, American Apparel sect members and random misplaced people. It’s heaps of fun, as my Australian friends would say!

By the way, I haven’t been updating a lot lately because I have been busy experiencing life here, but I have certainly been taking notes on what to post about. My autumn schedule will be busy, but calm busy, so expect posts very often!

Losses and Damages

Ah yes, on this trip I haven’t lost anything super valuable. Most annoying thing is that i’ve forgotten my BlackBerry charger in Ibiza (and no, I was not inebriated at the time of packing), and had to run around Barcelona’s Born and Gotik neighborhoods, trying to find something to replace it. Did find it, but what a silly waste of money.

I also got hurt in Ibiza – burnt my leg when accidentally touching the exhaust pipe of mine and Krystel’s scooter.

And the last one is catching a minor cold after 21 days of good time and merrymaking. One thing I regret is not drinking enough water here in Europe – it’s fairly expensive in restaurants and servers don’t usually bring a glass to the table. Oh well! 😀

BCN to LGW

I am a little sick, hence getting tired way sooner than usual. But not to worry – I have been writing down things to blog about, even if I have no time.

When I was leaving Barcelona, on a Friday night, I decided to take the train to the airport. I got to the Sants Estacion and went to the train station, got to the right platform and then jumped on a train that was there. Some other people followed and we waited. I was an idiot enough to drag my suitcase up the mini stairs and took a seat.

Then the kids who got in after me quickly ran off the bus, and I panicked. I dragged my suitcase down the stairs and as I was about to jump off, the doors closed. Right in front of me!

A kind man came up to explain to me that I won’t be going too far and that I should get off at the next station. So I got off at Bellvitge train station and that messed things up.

I decided to grab a taxi. But there were none. I had 50 minutes before the EasyJet check-in closed.

I tried calling a taxi, but they hung up on me because I had no street address (hello, Vancouver taxi cabs; same story there) to give them. I panicked even more. I tried to run up the overpass to get to the other side of the train station – second entrance. And as I was half way through, I saw a cab! I missed it.

I started to get really worried, I could’ve missed my flight to London after all. I ran down with my 23kg bag and got upset. Some elderly couple tried to help me figure out where to catch a cab, but that didn’t help.

I started crying right in the middle of the street, panicking, scared of missing my flight, when a young man came up asking me (in fairly good English!) what was wrong. I told him. Him and his girlfriend called me a cab, but none came. We dragged my bag to the main avenue of the suburb, and waited. I had no Euros left, save for €10, and hence couldn’t fully the €15 fare to the airport. The couple gave me €10 more! Then the cab came. My God. Am I not lucky? After this incident I’m pretty much convinced that nothing will go wrong in my life anymore, and if it does, a guardian angel will help me out. (This is sort of what happens in Harry Potter all the time, eh. The boy’s just so well connected and gets help when he’s in trouble)

God bless the couple that helped me out. I found that Spanish people in general are really warm, helpful, and empathetic. These two lovely strangers didn’t need to help me at all, but they did take the time out of their evening to make sure I got on my plane!.. And I don’t even know their names 😦

When I ran up to the EasyJet, panting and still shaking from stress of missing the flight, the check in guys laughed, but in a good way. They also didn’t charge me €30 for every kilo that my bag was over the limit… And it was over by 4 kg. Am I not lucky?

Crazy day, that Aug 29. Most ridiculous day of the month, actually, hehe.

More on Europe

Berlin was such a satisfying sight when it came to the roads (among many other things) – all the cars were either Mercedes, Audi, Opel or BMW. I saw ONE Ford and shivered to the bone. What’s a Ford doing in Germany? What kind of a nitwit would buy a Ford when they can buy a probably better Audi for that price?

Another note on Spain – Ibiza island is full of roundabouts. At first it was sort of tough on a scooter, but then we eased into it and found it much more practical than lights or highway exits. Roundabouts! I’m so happy that my Ibiza experience was just as wild as it was chill. Master of balance ze Karina.

I’ve been thinking about Hemingway a lot here, his Spain. I was trying to pick up one of his book to read since I am in Spain and I love reading books set in locations which I am traveling through. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything super intriguing of his (and I couldn’t deal with reading so much about bullfighting, considering Barcelona was the first city in Spain to protest against bullfighting or bull running). Instead I got Faulkner’s Light in August. It sounds quite promising; I spent several hours in a cafe yesterday reading it.

Hey, I just arrived in Bunol! Going for La Tomatina. Tomatoes, here I come!

random musings in a cafe in Barcelona

It’s interesting how people write a lot about their personal lives when they are younger. I used to write so much about my heart’s rollercoasting about 5-6 years ago, but now that seems like a gargantuan waste of time. Hearts are some of the most unstable things in the world that spending time on detailed archiving of their course becomes some of the worst ways to throw precious time out the window.

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Dairy in Europe is much better than in N. America. Water is always in bottled form. I keep thinking about Dave’s environmental comments every time I ask for or buy water. I also think that is the reason I haven’t been drinking enough water on my trip, yikes.

We are driving to Valencia tomorrow to have some legendary paella (which is where it was invented anyway) and to partake in La Tomatina in Bunol. I still have to buy some cheap shoes and protective goggles to survive the famous tomato battle.

More to come later

Ibiza

Ibiza is a wonderful place. Word of caution: you have to do more than just party party.

We rented a scooter and drove all over the island.

First, of course, we took a cab to Sant Antoni, and went to party at Space. We saw Carl Cox. 6am end time, cabs with British ladies and all that.

We rented a scooter, and I must say, a scooter is an important part of an Ibiza experience, unless of course you want to pay €25 for a ride to Ibiza town.

Krystel and I had an awesome experience riding all over the island, particularly at night. Yesterday we covered half of the island, in pitch dark, with rabbits hopping about the road.

The villas here are rathe fancy, and i’d like to own one someday. He he he.

We ventured into areas that not so many tourists go to; we toured all over the dark northern coast of Ibiza, sat in the middle of the road and stared at the sky (with our helmets on of course he he).

We ate swordfish, and drank local wine. You must must must drink wine from Ibiza; it is absolutely wondrous!!

We danced like there is no tomorrow.

I must say that there were too many trashy British girls; they gave a bad name to the whole Empire. I will post a video of some exceptional examples as soon as I get back to Toronto.

Overall, Ibiza was a great experience. The sun, the fun, the lost in the hilly residential areas with barely any fuel left, and then eating grapes off someone’s wine estate, and scootering through druglords’ villas and whatnot.

Ibiza is a wonderful place, but you must do more than just party till the wee hours and sit on the populated beaches!!! Toy must explore and you must go deep into the island to uncover the true story.

Taking Berlin

Well, well, well. I am in Germany! It is fantastic. Last night I went to Tresor night club, which is a former power plant, and now is a crazy techno club. Gritty place, complete with cold basement spilling over hard techno sounds and scary looking employees with t-shirts that proclaim “Tresor never sleeps”. Agreed. We escaped the full-on party around 5:30am, and that’s nevertheless early.

Tonight I am going to Rostock to rock out a bit there, eat some fish, and drink champagne with Florian.

I’ve had currywurst for the first time, and it was fabulous. I also noticed that cigarette packs have 17 units in them, which I find completely odd. There is no such thing as “last call”, which is the way it should be. People bike a lot in Berlin, and I am even thinking of renting one myself and cruise the city.

Humboldt Universitat sells awesome t-shirts: “Wilhelm & Alexander & ich”. I got one for myself.

I’m taking videos and photographs here, living in Berlin in a less touristy way and having a generally awesome time. Great company, great city, great weather, great memories.