Magnolia Trees in the Rain

I touch the tip of my shoe to the surface of the puddle from yesterday’s rain and watch the rings on the water spread petals from the cherry tree nearby. And that sums up spring in the lovely city of Hamburg. It blooms, it rains, it blooms some more and it rains again. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Good Friday is upon us with its much awaited time for rest and some peace, so I pull a Lizzy Bennet and go scampering about the city(side). Actually, I’m starting small. There’s a stack of real paper maps, yes, lying around at home. I’ve collected them during various outings because they were free and looked nice, which in my opinion are two of the best reasons to take something with you.

I’m always game for a walk around town and I’m also curious about testing my map-reading ability anew. Also, my phone chose to die right before I went outside, so no Google Map insurance this time.

Off down Grindelallee I go, the Hamburg University campus behind me, and the intersection between Bezirksamt Eimsbüttel, Hallerstraße and Beim Schlump ahead. On any other day this street is teeming with cyclists, students, locals, shops are open, bakeries are working fast and the buses 4 and 5 speed past every five minutes. Today’s quiet is an interesting contrast to the usual noise and bustle, and I let it sink in as the map successfully leads me to my next turn, on to Hallerstraße. It’s a very legible map, with little illustrations and a list of places to stop at on the back.

Hallerstraße is a charming residential street, rhododendrons and cherry trees on front lawns adding to its beauty. I stop to read a sign in front of the first building in the gallery below – it says the house was built in the Neo-Renaissance style and the “generous apartments” cater to fine tastes. I’m sure.

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Consulting the map, I turn left on to Rothenbaumchaussee and make a mental note of numerous pretty side streets to explore in the future. I pass elegant villas and new-looking apartment buildings, as well as the occasional purposeful parents shepherding their energetic offspring in to a car, most likely on the way to an Easter dinner with the grandparents. The headquarters of NDR (Northern German Broadcasting) are also located in the Rothenbaumchaussee.

After walking straight on for a few more minutes, I reach Klosterstern, and though I can get on the subway from there, I choose to walk some more, turning on to Jungfrauenthal. Other street names in addition to this one are indicative of the area’s earlier ties to religion and the church: Innocentiastraße, St. Benedictstraße. It’s raining a little and the air smells wonderful in these cosy streets lined with trees, more (I’m assuming also Neo-Renaissance) apartment buildings and plenty of bikes chained up in front of every door.

Isestraße is next, and when I reach the Hoheluftbrücke station, instead of continuing to where I started the walk, I turn on to Schlankreye, then Gustav-Falke-Straße. Brick buildings typical of Northern Germany line these streets, and I conclude my exploration with the discovery of two schools, one of which turns out to have a charming courtyard. All I can say is, if my high school had looked like this…

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I feel as if I have only scratched the suface of my surroundings, because I have all these questions: why were the buildings built the way they were? What used to be there before? Did any famous people live here? What was it like to walk around here 50, 100 years ago? My romantic imagination enjoys the remaining sense of mystery.

The nicest surprise during this walk, though, have been the many magnolia trees.

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Sunday Diaries

It’s logical that most of these will probably start with what I was thinking about after I woke up, since lying in bed on a Sunday morning is a luxury I like to enjoy when I have it. A bit of daydreaming, a bit of music, a bit of reading, getting the brain whirring if the spirit so moves you, before you can’t deny that you do have to get up and eat, for breakfast is also a beautiful and wonderful thing.

So I don’t grab, but normally, even gently reach for my phone (dropping it once was enough), that handy purveyor of things entertaining, and scroll a bit on YouTube. Grace Helbig’s review of this year’s celebrity Halloween costumes got me sniggering and put me in a slightly sarcastic state of mind, which lead to typing in some words in the YouTube search bar that had been simmering at the back of said mind. These words were benching dating. This new word for age-old behaviour has apparently been setting both the dating world and the internet ablaze for quite some time now, unfortunately, and we are never too old nor too uncreative to find a label that might take at least some of the sting off those “What the hell?” moments.

One of the first videos that popped up was this snippet from The View upoloaded in June of this year. “Well, it’s kind of poopy, but what are you gonna do,” host Whoopi Goldberg says matter-of-factly. “It’s poopy,” she continues, “Well, I think it’s just a ball of **** to do that to somebody.” I’m neither a fan nor an expert on this particular show, but as usual Whoopi confirmed my hope that as long as I came across this video, she would be the one to say what needed to be said.

Scrolling through a few other videos and remembering the numerous articles I had read on the subject in the past few days, it was both strange to seemingly re-identify a known problem, narrowing down the more general “not calling/ texting/ writing/ dating back” actions somewhat to a description that fit a repeating MO, and saddening to see just how easy it is to set someone on the path of emotional turmoil. Was there a little bit of relief involved at finding some kind of words that seemed to box in what so many were going through? I’m not sure. Whichever way you spin it and however you try to categorize it, it still boils down to mistreatment and disappointment. Both facts of life.

But that was enough for now of letting benching occupy my thoughts on a day as precious as Sunday, so well-scrambled eggs on sliced tomato and bell pepper, with a bit of cheese, as well as toast with jam, followed my musings, nourishing ideas for a possible future blog post.

It’s very easy to give in to staying at home on a Sunday that is a bit grey and automatically makes you think it must be cold out there, but my determination to combat these yearnings today won over. The world is your oyster if you have the right shoes on and cover yourself where you can get cold. Or, in this case, my trusty Alster river walk was once again my oyster. A not new, but re-confirmed piece of wisdom: going outside, moving, breathing, looking, thinking, listening to music, observing, taking pictures and feeling what must only be creative adrenaline of your very own is most often the right decision. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were still plenty of autumn colors to snap and fill my Instagram with, and no matter how many times I have been here, the area just keeps surprising me. Venturing in to the side streets you see along the way is a good way to branch out, and I think how much there is still left of this city to discover. It’s a comforting thought. Damp, dark, sometimes moss-covered tree trunks frame turn-of-the-century villas and yellow leaves flutter against the almost white sky.

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This local blend of urban, historic and nature provides a lot of joy for kindred souls I spot along the way, silently strolling along with headphones on, like me, giving each other a glance sometimes and what I like to think is a small, secret smile of acknowledgement. Walking to the soundtrack of your choosing is a film-esque experience right there, especially for a person with a quickly romantic imagination, and spotting a house that immediately makes you think of Pemberley (even if it does look different, but I can’t travel to England right this second, so let’s make the best of the already wonderful things we have) makes you tingle.

Bumping in to a friend out on her jog was a pleasant surprise. After some chatting I watch her run on with light, energetic movements, and feel suddenly happy, hopeful that we, or at least those I know, are all doing something today that is making us content, peaceful and just what we want to be in this moment.

And why would anyone want to know or read all of this, you might ask? Well, isn’t that the reason why we blog?

Tokyo: Out and About in Harajuku

What would a visit to Tokyo be without becoming Harajuku girls for an afternoon? No, we didn’t dress up, but since we already stood out due to our height alone, we figured we were good. Filled to the brim with the spacious green beauty of Yoyogi park we set off towards Harajuku for what we suspected would surely be a change of scene. Easy to reach on foot from the park, the district is only a few minutes away. It’s also possible to walk there from Shibuya, or take the subway to Harajuku station.

Starting with the more upscale shopping boulevard Omotesandō is generally recommended and it’s a good way to flow in to Harajuku with the rest of the throngs of people making their way there. Stepping in to side streets that catch your eye because of a shop window, a temple or a restaurant may lead to interesting discoveries and that’s how we found this wonderful place for lunch.

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Once again I can confirm that, unfortunately, I don’t speak Japanese, but the power of taking pictures ensures that there is someone to ask what this place is called and where it is, should we want to come again. We picked it because it looked inviting and soothing, plus they had an English menu lying outside. In we went!

The restaurant was dimly lit inside, adding to the cosy feeling we immediately experienced upon setting foot there. Once I looked up and saw that ceiling completely covered with red and white lanterns, I was enchanted. While we waited for our food I took a look around and snapped one gorgeous wall for some more local flavour among our memories.

Cold jasmine tea on ice without alcohol (an option our waitress thankfully pointed out to us before we accidentally ordered the other version) was incredibly refreshing after the humidity outside and all that walking. Among the many delicious-looking dishes on the pictures in the menu we settled for avocado tempura – usually deep fried vegetables, but fruit works just as well! We also split three sizable meat dumplings between us – they disappeared too quickly to take a picture.

We decided to explore the famous Takeshita street to get the Harajuku experience, and it certainly delivered. Due to the aforementioned tendency for locals, and consequently tourists, to move forward along their left, progress worked out fine despite predictable crowds. Politeness and sometimes a little patience are all that’s needed.

If Harajuku can be at least partly defined by Takeshita street, then it was certainly everything we thought it would be: colourful, occasionally psychedelic, lively, at times eccentric, bursting with the kawaii (cute, often in connection with popular culture) and spilling with enthusiastic consumerism. Sweets, shoes, sunglasses, clothes, jewelry – you name it, in abundance. Shops often descended to basement levels, making it entirely possible to disappear in one building for hours on end.

A particular interest seems to be dressing up pets. What I at first mistook for a baby clothes shop with my nearsighted gaze turned out to be Pet Paradise, full of suits, hats, shirts and toys for (mostly small) pets, leaning heavily on Disney themes. We spotted a cat and owl cafe not far away, but after the initial excitement decided to continue, as the fees were somewhat outside our budget range. It’s recommended to read up on this a little before going in. Maybe some other time I will have my Harry Potter moment in an owl cafe.

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Tip: taking pictures in shops is tempting, but be sure to check if there’s a sign asking not to.

Harajuku also has its own Disney store – a not unwelcome discovery! Similar to many other shops I had explored a few months before in Disneyland Paris, it was still very pretty and looked very at home among everything that made up Takeshita street. Bonus – a big HD screen covered the wall behind the cashier counter, with songs from Disney animated films playing one after the other. It felt completely natural, appropriate to the travel experience, even, to stand there for a while and sing along (not too loudly) to A Whole New World, Let It Go and I See the Light.

Dessert opportunities pop up at convenient intervals, and the extremely realistic, high-quality fake reproductions of the food certainly get the appetite going. We stopped at Angel’s Heart for crêpes – a not at all uncommon snack in Tokyo. The fakes are displayed unrolled, so you can see the display of all the fabulousness that will fill your sweet treat once its ready. Mine contained a perfect small slice of chocolate cake, whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sliced banana and strawberries. Obviously and judging by the people around us it was absolutely allowed to eat this on the street, so there are small exceptions to the rule.

 

 

 

 

 

Oslo, Day 3. Harbour and Vigelandsparken

No, day 3 is still not over! “And I just can’t get enough/ And I just can’t get enough.”

We took the tram (Oslo is the only city in Norway with trams, or trikken, by the way, and I think the last time I rode one was in Prague) to Aker Brygge, one of the most convenient points to get out at if you want to explore the square around the City Hall, as well as walk along the harbour by the Oslofjord. We walked along the right-hand side, if you face the fjord, with the still cloudless deep blue sky reflected in the water and the afternoon sun contributing to the impression that everyone around us was also on vacation, despite the fact that it was Wednesday. Fancier-looking restaurants filled with guests lined the promenade, along with ice-cream kiosks, and more attention-grabbing modern Oslo architecture popped up, in brick, glass and steel. We fantasized about what it must be like to live in an apartment with such a view and were enchanted with the observation point at the end of the walk, opening up to yet another breath-taking vista of the Oslofjord. Why is everything so beautiful?!

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To the left of the observation point (which turns out to be right by the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art, the cool building with the slanting roof) is a bathing area. Some are sitting on the sand, relaxing in the sun, but one guy in bright blue swimming shorts (yes, I have an eye for details) catches my attention. He’s quite tanned for this time of year and he’s the only one on the higher bit of wall clad so modestly. No one seems to mind or really notice, though. And like it’s the most natural thing in the world, he leaps in to the water, while his dog tensely watches. Just a refreshing dive. I pull my hat down more snugly over my ears and wonder about coming over here again in the summer.

After that we were ready for the next item on our Oslo list – Vigelandsparken. On to the tram again and past some very pretty houses. The park consists of five parts, all together combining 212 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Materials include bronze, granite and wrought iron. That intoxicating feeling of space and calm enveloped us once again as we entered through the main gate, also a work of art on its own, and proceeded along the bridge stretching ahead of us. The bridge was lined on both sides by numerous sculptures, and after viewing quite a few more than expressive works concentrating on the nude human body in the Munchmuseet earlier, I was unusually conscious of the fact that all these figures were also naked. The figures depicted men, women and children caught in active movement, interacting with each other, and we quickly discovered the best game in the place – imitate the poses and take pictures. Keep a lookout for the Angry Baby (how most of the visitors refer to it) on the left, or auf Deutsch The Angry Little Boy. Due to excessive instagramming on the go, my phone also decided to chill when we got to the park, but my friend very kindly lent me her’s after seeing me fidget. Vigeland’s sculptures are a source of endless thoughtful discussions. “What did he mean by this one? This is quite interesting… Wait, is he throwing the baby?”

Photo credit @juniperlu

Photo credit @juniperlu

A large fountain with more fascinating sculptures follows the bridge, and even if it’s obviously not turned on yet, it’s fun to walk on the edges and scrutinize the more mythical depictions in front of us. I’m enjoying the people theme, it makes me think and feel very absorbent of Oslo’s local flair.

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Some steps need to be mounted after the fountain, and we find ourselves on one of the most famous parts of Vigelandsparken, the monolith. 121 figures carved from stone silently tower above the park. They took 14 years to finish. Visitors sit on the steps surrounding the monolith, and once again some of the sculptures provoke a reaction best described as “Um…” Bottom line, though: the whole structure is mesmerizing.

Photo credit @juniperlu

Photo credit @juniperlu

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Photo credit @juniperlu

Photo credit @juniperlu

All this monolithic viewing required a meal of respectable proportions as well, so we settled down in Kaffistova to some traditional Norwegian food and a discount with the Oslo Pass. What a day.

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Oslo, Day 2. Akerselva and Grünerløkka

Like Hamburg, Oslo is a city that is closely connected to nature and water, the latter being especially pronounced. We could see the Akerselva river threading its way forward and it was along it that we set off on a new walk through the district Grünerløkka. Trees were still bare, but you could feel spring waiting just around the corner, and it was easy to imagine masses of green foliage among new apartment blocks and older buildings with graffiti on their walls. Contrasts along the Akerselva are a fact, and just like in the rest of Oslo, they seem natural, a fact you quickly accept and like. Nothing feels pushed out, intimidating or forced.

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The sound of rushing water as the Akerselva squeezes in to a narrow brook dashing over rocks or a full-grown waterfall is a constant companion during the walk.

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Joggers and parents with prams stroll everywhere, including construction sites, which somehow don’t obstruct, either the view or the walking process. It’s almost like the construction itself is polite – a regular part of Oslo’s developing urban landscape. Building doesn’t cut through nature in the city, it’s happening around it. The area around Akerselva used to be an industrial hub, with factories and mills which are now filled with new offices and companies, but the ultimately arresting architecture remains, as Grünerløkka has expanded to become much more than a working class district.

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Along the way you can walk over to the Mathallen, a food market hall. The first of its kind in Norway, it’s a former factory that now houses various shops selling delicious Norwegian food, which we, unfortunately, surveyed with full bellies.

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After quite a bit of walking uphill we approached the Hønse-Lovisas hus, dark red, small, charming and typically Norwegian. My friend had told me about it before we set off and we gratefully did justice to their waffles with jam and cream, while sitting outside in the sun and watching this waterfall, yet another example of the natural and the urban working well together.

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After four hours of walking, my excitement about discovering Oslo further was only mounting. I also brought back my first sunburn of the year, conveniently spread over my face. Pack the sunscreen.