I decided to go to Christmas markets in Dusseldorf and Bath. I wondered if Christmas outside America was equally a commercial affair out to get people to buy stuff. Everything is so global it can be hard to tell, as American Christmas music blasted out in Germany. I did realize how many of our traditions are probably from German or English traditions. After buying a few ornaments and handmade presents for family and friends I moved on to the most interesting part of the markets for me, all the food.

The first night involved train station market potato pancakes and mulled wine before heading off to a local brewery.Brauerei Schumacher, what a spelling, releases their extra rich latzenbier three times a year that used to be reserved for monks and the wealthy. We accidentally showed up on the right day to try it.

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An excellent place to dive into the big meaty portions I associate with traditional German food. I saved the schweinshaxe for a later meal on this trip.

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They mark the number of beers on your coaster, the big Russian dude next to us had 18 marks when he left.

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As far as I can tell, Christmas markets are as full of bars as the are stalls for anything else. This meant a lot of hot chocolate, spiced cider and mulled wine to warm us up.

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A whole wheel of deep fried camembert and forest mushrooms with a remoulade type cream dipping sauce from the same stall. Two of my favorite things at one stall, be still my now artery clogged but excitedly beating heart.

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Mettwurst! Now to find an excuse to make a mett hedgehog. 

Ok this was the local market and not the Christmas market but I finally got my mettwurst sandwich and ate half before remembering to take a picture. A friend in Berlin originally suggested it at 5 pm at a market that had it premade or from the supermarket. Even I have limits for raw meat. This one came from gesturing wildly at the very crowded butcher who had me walk across the aisle to the butcher before returning. Many thanks to the people next to me who helped me translate.

At one point I wandered off the very ornately designed tourist markets that they put on a nice map for you into a random local market. Gone were the hand carved wooden everything replaced by mass market produced cell phone covers and plastic toys. It felt like a street full of mall kiosks. The potato pancakes and bars were still there. While I’m usually sick of Christmas music and commercial decoration it was fun to check out all the different variety of Christmas markets.

 

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Being in London for school meant I also went on some trips for school, often to places I wouldn’t choose to go otherwise. Some people may find this crazy or amusing as I enjoy my less crowded off the beaten path trips much more. I am grateful for the opportunity to go to these places that wouldn’t normally interest me with people who are more excited.

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Grad school was a great place to learn about all the minority views that and larger institutions and I may not consider. This picture captures what that felt like to me, that otherwise grandiose landmarks suddenly seemed both more imperial and framed by a lot of darkness. Taken inside the Musée du quai Branly where we were learning about the role of ethnography museums and colonial viewpoints in new modern museums.

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In beautiful Nice, France for carnival right after the Charlie Hebdo incidents. The ticketed and controlled bright festivities in stark contrast to the international tensions and assault rifled military in the city.

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A winding staircase somewhere in old town Nice.

I had some romantic notion of what world fairs must have been like back in the day when things like ice cream cones and cotton candy were invented at them. So a few design friends and I took the opportunity to go to Milan for the world expo with the theme of food.

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What would a visit to a European city be without the beautiful and touristy view of the central square and church? It was surrounded by the flags of so many countries for the expo.

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I also found street signs amusingly vandalized by some local street artist. I didn’t know it was a thing or I would’ve looked for more.

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The halls did seem like a bit of a money pissing contest split between modern and traditional. This was Korea’s very techno-laden event with dancing screens. Smaller, less rich countries were shoved into back halls.

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Less high tech, still very designer-y.

 

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My non-American friends were much more excited than I to check out America’s entry, which ended up being devoted to Michelle Obama’s fresh food initiatives. The food area was a tame food truck area of hot dogs, hamburgers and BBQ.

Overall we ended up finding the two to three hour lines for the most popular stalls ridiculous especially with a long subway ride out to the venue in the first place. There was also an immense amount of walking, this coming from a person who walks 5-8 miles in cities for fun. Perhaps there were glorious things being invented we did not find, but most of the food was underwhelming and not the examples of the best or freshest to be found at many countries and instead seemed to represent a lot of frozen fast food or snack type fare. The Austrian exhibit stood out as a literal breath of fresh air as did Bahrain for both it’s simple and modern building and interesting food selection.

I landed amidst protests into a region I have always wanted to go to but wasn’t particularly sure if it was safe to go alone. As I walked out of the airport three workers stopped me smiling and waving furiously, “The international transports are that way!” What? No, no I came to be here! I guess they must not get a lot of Asian American tourists. Luckily I was soon greeted by the smiling face of a friend and whisked off around so many blockades. I found the assault rifle toting military wandering the streets in France to be surprising and the various military checkpoints here were a reminder of why this beautiful place isn’t more commonly a tourist destination.

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A country in the middle of a trash and refugee crisis.

 

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Wandering the hot, narrow and windy alleys of Sidon past laughing children, vendors and people’s living rooms.

 

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The beautiful view from the sea fort.

 

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The ancient cedars that grace the flag that is proudly displayed everywhere.

 

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The beautiful geometric patterns that I had previously gotten closest to in Spain. Gorgeous.

 

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I left as a sandstorm settled on the country. Surreal.

Don’t let my lack of food pictures for once deceive you, everything was delicious and I’m not sure how I fit it all in. Perhaps more than most places I am visiting friends, I am grateful for the viewpoint and help of a local. Of the generosity of her family and friends to welcome me and make sure I got to see all parts of Lebanon and some amazing home cooking. Someone told me the entire country is the size of Los Angeles county, which boggled my mind. We did criss cross the country pretty quickly to see all of the history juxtaposed with a very modern leaning city. There aren’t many places I go where I feel underdressed anymore, but this whole country did feel more fashion planned than I am used to. There were regions we avoided due to danger, although I never got a clear idea of what was safe or not and have no idea how anyone could keep up. May the region enjoy peace and be able to be shared with the rest of us, a gem that seems off the path to most for now.

How could I pass up a misconception about JFK proclaiming himself to be a doughnut? Alas, I don’t have many photos of Berlin so it will look like I ate a lot, perhaps not untrue either. It was also full of wonderful bicycle rides as we visited a friend who lived here. Seeing a place with a friend is mildly different than the general wander that I do. I enjoy seeing the place through their lens as a local and wonder what I would’ve seen myself. My friend did decline coming to the currywurst museum with me. I do wish I had gotten some pictures as Tempelhofer park seemed to be full of every type of possible strange human conveyance, but it’s hard to capture a guy racing by on a wind skateboard unicycle.

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Why, it wouldn’t be German to me without a schweinaxe and woodsorrel beer.

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The East German crosswalk symbol has his own snack food and store dedicated to his iconic look.

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Communist parks and abandoned amusement parks made for great bicycle rides.

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More pork and beer, this time fried. Well, not the beer.

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An old chunk of Berlin wall showing the city’s diversity?

Summer vacation! I didn’t expect to have one again as an adult since I hadn’t planned on going to school. London’s an excellent international hub so I took this opportunity to explore what’s generally far from America. Off to Romania as I really loved Eastern Europe on my last trip.

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The second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. More than half is securely underground.

The architecture here is crazy, it had a familiar feeling I couldn’t quite place my finger on, something that wasn’t quite what I am used to in Europe. Then I found out the Communist era buildings here are influenced from Chinese Communism and not Russian. Well, that explains the gaudy, colorful neon and style of buildings. There were large boulevards and the huge capitol building with lots of security, and strangely, the modern art museum tucked in the back since the government can’t actually fill such a monument. The joy of dictators with a sense of grandeur. I took a walking tour led by young 20 something designers who explained that no one can really make ends meet so they all have second jobs and side hustles. They told stories of waiting all day for food rations as children and how oranges were much sought after presents for Christmas. It reminded me of Little House on the Prairie. It was hard to believe that these women who would not look out of place at all in London had experienced this in their short lifetimes. I chatted with them after the tour and they joked privately about how they don’t worry about any criminals because they had all left the country, the thing the UK and EU seem to be complaining a lot about in the media. I asked why the public transit had a feel of extreme age and they laughed that I had noticed. One mentioned in her hometown that they had bought secondhand busses from Germany recently and no one knew how to change the stop text, so somewhere in Romania are buses with German destinations.

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Found in a subway station. I would be ok if more places had reading vending machines.

 

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The strongest motorcycle I’ve ever ridden.

I rented a motorcycle and headed out of town. I haven’t been on a motorcycle in a while and huge five lane roundabouts and bridges over traffic were certainly a challenge. Although perhaps not as much a struggle as the flooding mountain in a thunderstorm I ended up on or the bee that flew into my helmet going 70 mph (100 kmh) on a super highway. I may not forget shuddering, soaking wet in a traditional restaurant trying to gesture to staff who spoke no English to please bring me some hot soup. Definitely the most eventful one day ride I’ve ever been on, even with Vietnam. A mere 30 minutes outside of Bucharest, I passed a guy pulling straw in a horse drawn wooden cart.

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One of Dracula’s supposed burial spots.

Over a peaceful bridge with local kids fishing was a small monastery claiming to have the body of Dracula. It was my one nod to the campy Vlad the impaler legends while here. I really enjoyed the pastoral nature of this monastery that I probably wouldn’t have stopped for otherwise and the natural surroundings that I got very enjoyably lost in for a bit.

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The lady inside spoke little English and smiled after she took my money. “Poeeee-neeee!” She pointed outside. What? OH! There’s adorable mini ponies outside!

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Well, it wouldn’t be Europe without a grand, old castle or church!

I’m not sure if it was low season or what but I definitely stayed in more than one completely empty lodging. The killer deals led me to a 28 euro eco-lodge with my own room, living room and foyer out on the Danube Delta. It may have been the nicest digs I have ever stayed in. It was so peaceful with many people around. I can’t remember anything specific but I know I’ve seen the Danube further up and it felt so different here but I knew it was the same water.

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Birder paradise. I’m not sure I saw any but I enjoyed staring at the vistas. I think I could see Ukraine from here. 

After the peaceful nature of northeast Romania, I got a reminder of my backpacker days. I hopped a bunch of crowded minibuses, eating a large elephant ear sized fried dough filled with salty sheep’s cheese from a truck stop to trains back to minibuses to get to southeast Romanian beaches. From one border to another by way Bucharest.

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Little fried sardines in cream sauce and beer in a beach town.

I stopped in the party town of Vama Veche and got a taste of what I assume is the party scene that Bulgaria is usually known for. I’m not sure I enjoyed that part. How I got from one end of the country to the other in one day confounds me. This was a little faster than I usually like to travel but I am glad I got to see so many different parts of Romania. It is a beautiful country.

Far from the many spring breaks I spent in Mexico, I decided to take this year’s as a sort of creative working holiday.

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Full of narrow streets, bridges and hills, Lisbon reminded me a lot of San Francisco. 

 

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I spent most of my time near the beach working, enjoying fresh fish and cold wine. Excuse the extreme exposure coming in from the sea and sun.

I left the west coast sea after a surf lesson and some delicious seafood to go check out Evora, hub of delicious wine, cheese and meat products.

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The megaliths outside Evora as shown by the most enthusiastic young archeology professor who helped write the interpretive text for all the sites. 

The tour guide of the megaliths explained surprisingly to me that when Portugal lost all its colonies in the 70s the countries sent all the Portuguese back to Portugal. As the children of immigrants, I can’t even imagine being forced going back to a country I had possibly never visited. The population of the country doubled in one year and every room in every hotel in Lisbon was packed.

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I probably spent most of my time in Portugal wandering narrow alleys and gawking at the architecture.

 

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I’ve wanted to see a bone church ever since hearing about one in Prague I didn’t have time to go see. Well, there’s on in Evora.

On my way out, I emptied everything in my suitcase into a tote bag and shoved my entire suitcase full of wine, olive oil, ham and cheese. I may not be staying in Portugal but I would take as much of it with me as I could. If only I could’ve taken the climate too.

Los Angeles may be a city famous for cars and smog, but there are also lots of outdoor spaces. This is mildly delayed but spring is a perfect time to visit a lot of these places while the weather is warm and not yet hot. I am not covering the popular Griffith Park, the Malibu area, or Runyon Canyon areas as I’ve been making an effort to explore places I had not been yet.

First up is Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. I’d been here many years ago on a misguided mountain bike adventure that I am still not skilled enough for. As a hike it is lovely with a small fishing area, barbecue and picnicking areas, hilariously fake waterfall, and lots of beautiful, if somewhat smoggy, views of Los Angeles.

20140526_132243It’s near impossible to find a map of the park online for some reason. The trails are outlined but it’s hard to find your way around them as there are a lot not shown on this map. Luckily the 308 acre park is easily navigated.

20140507_182654It feels like an oasis of plants in the middle of what is otherwise an endless sprawl of buildings. I’m not sure if it’s technically the same park as the Baldwin Hills stairs but they are only separated by La Cienega and an oil field. This park is much bigger with better trails, less people, and similarly great views.

20140607_200538This is the view from an empty lot near where I live. The oil fields are not the most scenic or full of nature but it is probably an important cause of why this area hasn’t been completely developed yet.

April brought the annual blooming of the poppies at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. I wanted to go in years prior but the drought meant that there were not many flowers to be seen. This year was not the best bloom they’ve ever had but it was enough to make the trek out there.

Panorama_PoppiesIt felt like endless fields of orange and yellow. I can only imagine what this park looks like on a good, non-drought year. On our drive in even the highways are lined with endless fields of wildflowers. Purple, white, yellow, silver, orange and pink explode in patches everywhere. Even the car is not immune as the monarch butterflies were out in force and can’t seem to avoid your car.
20140420_115636The season for these beautiful flowers is not very long but luckily it is before the desert gets too hot. The park is about an hour north of the city and requires lots and lots of water even for these mild 90 degree days. I’m not sure I want to know what full summer looks like. I love how the flowers ranged from pure yellow to pure orange and every fade in between.

20140420_110529On the way back we stopped at Agua Dulce park. I am amazed that Los Angeles handles so many parks of this size and across such a large area. This park is famous for being the filming spot for many television shows and movies, particularly for the original Star Trek series.
20140420_153638 I often take the Ballona Creek off street path but not the other paths so I ventured out to Playa Del Rey to check out Cabora Road. Unfortunately it is not great for road bikes but would probably be fine for mountain bikes. It seemed great for all the walkers and their dogs. The only information I could find about this path online were outdated from 2007 and mentioned the path being closed. Luckily it seems very much open with helpful signs and even paper maps.

20140609_152317Now the path mostly looks over tech companies but the area has an interesting history as well. This is the old Hughes Aircraft headquarters and warehouse where the Spruce Goose was made.

20140609_163205Riding out to the beach takes you past lots of condos and high speed roads with no bike paths but you also get this beautiful view of the Ballona Wetlands.

I grew up in the South Bay area of Los Angeles but wasn’t much of a hiker while growing up. My parents’ idea of the great outdoors involved staying in cabins and maybe doing a nature walk. I revisited the area recently and it looks like various groups have popped up to make the area’s trails more accessible.
20140517_105020The views are incredible as always and the tide pools and caves are fun to explore. The strange part about this area of Palos Verdes is that there are technically four cities so as you pass through trails they are in different states of accessibility and marking.

I also visited the Lake Balboa park in the San Fernando Valley but did not get any good pictures. I’m happy to see such large expanses of green space set aside for everything from picnics to model airplane flying. I have also revisited the Griffith Park area and note that the river bike and pedestrian path has been improved a lot in the last few years. You can even take a kayak down a portion of the river now. Get out there Los Angeles, and enjoy the seemingly endless perfect 70 degree days.