Posts Tagged With: London

If It’s Berlin, Then I’m In


Arrived Berlin. First full day in this historic, activist, amazing city with the good energy. Coffee time with Alisa and Louise.

I arrived in London and stayed long enough to make a bad decision.
Hungry and in a hurry, I bought a sugary, calorie-laden, chocolate-covered, chocolate-filled donut so pricey it made my jaw drop. Not that I eat donuts much. I don’t, but $4 for a donut and another $4 for a hot chocolate just seemed a bit overpriced, even if it was branded Krispy Kreme, the American donut chain with a cultish following of raving fans. Unbeknownst to me, Krispy Kreme has gone global.
I don’t know what possessed me to belly up to the counter at Krispy Kreme in of all places London Town. I had never ventured into a Krispy Kreme in the United States, ever, so why now in expensive London where I’d surely be paying three times as much?
With every bite, that donut oozed warm, liquid deep dark chocolate. I felt as if I was committing a sin – on several levels – and that everyone around was fixed with glaring eyes on the chocolate running down my fingers. I could hear the voice of a friend from a long time ago, Dennis Dean of Los Angeles, calling out from afar his signature admonishment: “What are you doing!?”
But eat and drink I did and I rather enjoyed the hot chocolate. I took the last bite and gulp when I noticed the time. I dashed off to my gate at Terminal 5 in Heathrow International Airport, excited about what was next: Berlin.
There was a time I wanted to live in London. But that idea has long lost luster. For my money, Berlin is the place to be.
I love Berlin. I really do. I want to experience Berlin as a local. I want to be a part of it. Live it and breathe it. A job in Berlin, anyone? 🙂
The first time I came to Berlin was as a fellow with the German Marshall Fund. Germany was in the middle of a historic election. By the end of the politically charged day, Angela Merkel had become Germany’s first woman chancellor. It was an election that understandably received great international coverage. That was almost seven years ago. The physical chemist is still chancellor.
On that first trip to Berlin, I was able to meet and interview many Germans on both sides of the divide known as the Berlin Wall. Largely removed after the fall of the Soviet Union, today sections of the wall have been left standing as a reminder of what was. In some areas where the wall stood, rusting steel bars have been placed to mark where the wall used to stand and as a memorial to the German lives lost trying to escape East Berlin. One section of the wall, known as the East Side Gallery, has been painted over with large murals by a variety of artists. And in some areas, there’s simply no wall, just the footprints.
As a lover of history, I immediately fell for Berlin. But more than that, there’s a certain vibe to the city that draws me here. Berlin is certainly not a very beautiful city in the caliber of Paris or Rome, but the people – artists, activists, all manner of bohemian – give the city a real edge that I – and thousands who flock here every year – like.
Only two cities in the world make me smile from ear to ear from the moment I land in them: New York and Berlin. I maintain that New York is the greatest city on Earth. It really is. Even Some Berliners who know both cities say that. But Berlin has that certain something. It’s also an inexpensive city compared to other German cities, such as Cologne or Munich.
Did I mention I want to live in Berlin? Angela, are you listening? 🙂
Still, there are many more places in the world yet to explore and likely have what Berlin has and more. That’s the beauty of travel. The possibilities. The promise. And yes, the wrong food decisions.

Waistful spending


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The Queen And I

The British royal family on Buckingham Palace ...

Have you heard the news? The 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in London. Pretty big deal for Londoners, don’t you think? And yet, in conversations with at least a half-dozen people in that fair city, not one has asked if my trip there has something – anything – to do with the Olympics. They’ve all asked the same question: “Are you coming for the queen’s jubilee?”  The queen’s what? 

First, respect to Queen Elizabeth II for holding on so long to the crown. Some of her predecessors didn’t fare so well on the throne. She’s managed, through wars and all sorts of strife, to continue to rule for 60 years, in the process outlasting countless other monarchs around the world. But I don’t know of any Americans – at least none in my circle of friends – who would travel to England just to celebrate the queen’s 60 years of reign, unless of course they are part of some diplomatic corps or have some special ties to England. Or are themselves members of the royal family and are keeping that shame a secret.

When I get to England in the coming week, I will get there just in time for all the pomp and circumstance. I never saw the televised wedding a year ago of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. I was somewhere on top of a South American volcano at the time. But today, a funny thing happened. I was watching Cable News Network and instead of news, the channel was airing a special about the royals, focusing on the newest royal, the duchess. And as I watched, it snatched my attention. Wasn’t so much the wedding itself, but all the trappings and glitz surrounding the event: the military parades, the high-stepping horses and gaudy horse-drawn carriages, the marching bands, the crowds holding Union Jacks. So now guess who might find himself among the flag-waving crowds?

I still maintain I have little to no interest in the daily twists and turns of the Royal Family. But while I’m in London town, why not? Who knows, I may even meet the queen, throw up a horizontal peace sign, and snap a picture with her.  Now wouldn’t that be royally lovely?

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First Mission In Europe: The United Kingdom, Stonehenge

Lots of time spent in Miami hanging out with CouchSurfers. That’s me on the right, front row, in the New York Yankees baseball cap. Respect!

Nobody likes a nag. So why is my backpack acting like one?

“Time to pack, Michael!”

“Get cracking, Michael!”

“Don’t wait until the last minute, Michael”

“You need to do this, Michael!

“I need your attention, Michael!”

Blah blah blah blah blah bluh bluh bluh….SHUT UP ALREADY!

Sorry, didn’t mean to lose my cool. I  don’t usually lose my cool. I have to be *really* pushed to lose it. I definitely shouldn’t let a dumb backpack get to me.

But Kelty– that’s my backpack’s name – is right to nag. I do need to get on with packing. Otherwise, I’m going to find myself up against a wall I don’t really need  to climb.

And misleading them! 🙂 I kid. Here, leading a CouchSurf bike tour of South Beach. Photo swiped from Rob Greeley, whose camera needs a time check 🙂

This is my last full week in Miami, and I really should start packing this week. Next week I leave for London to restart my world trip. First big mission, a trip to Stonehenge and an attempt to topple it. Okay, Scotland Yard, that’s a joke. I will not attempt to knock down your piled on flat stones. Who do you think I am, Monty Python?

I just want to see this mysterious centuries-old structure. It’s just one of those ancient ruins (is that what it is?) I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember. For me, it’s a must-see wonder on par with others I’ve already seen:  the Eiffel Tower; the Leaning Tower of Pisa; the Statue of Liberty; Machu Picchu; the Great Wall of China; and others I’ve yet to see: the Egyptian Pyramids and so many others. And yet, it’s one of those that get an “awesome!” that you plan to visit, to a “why?” would you want to see that? And I must say, most of the negative feedback about visiting Stonehenge has been coming from people who are British and largely live in London. It’s a total bore, is what I’m getting. Really?  Maybe they need to stand on their heads and have another look 🙂

No matter, I’m still determined to go. If once I get there, have a look and yawn, so be it. I would have at least fulfilled a wish, even if I have to look at it from every angle, including on my head, to see something of significance in it. I am of the school that things aren’t boring, people are.

So since I expect to encounter all sorts of weather in Europe, even in full on summer, I need to start sorting out now what I will need to pack, and yet keep the stuff I intend to lug around to a minimum. Packing for all kinds of climates is a huge challenge. You need cool clothing for summer; warm for the cold and snow, and waterproof  for rainy days and London.  I plan to do some camping, so must make room for my tent. My hammock would be nice to have along, but that may be a luxury – and extra weight – my shoulders and back can’t afford. Hammock stays home. I think 🙂

And having a good time! Here, with the co-owners of the The Abbey Brewing Company in Miami Beach, celebrating the bar’s 17th anniversary. Co-owner Carlos is on the left in green shirt, and co-owner Ray in tie-dye shirt is next to me. The people in the middle, well, I have no idea who they are! 🙂 I joke. They are the contractors who built The Abbey 17 years ago and expanded it last year.

A rant about these past three months in Miami. I am really glad I came back and spent them in Miami and Miami Beach and places in between. Meeting old friends and making new ones showed me how much my year away in South America changed me. You can’t go away on a journey for that length of time and experience different cultures and not be changed, hopefully for the better. Miami allowed me to clearly see the good and the bad in people I thought I knew. When you’ve spent a year in the Third World, the negativity of too many people in the First World bursts forth with a bang. In these three months, I often sat listening to a friend or acquaintance go on and on about his or her woes and thinking in the midst of their baffling discourse: “You think you have problems, try living like most in rural Villavieja, Colombia, or urban Quito, Ecuador. I am, of course, not minimizing the problems people face day in and day out, but some of y’all need to get some real problems. In his song, “You Will Know”, Stevie Wonders rightly recites “Problems have solutions”, and indeed they do for most of us in the First World, with our First World educations and First World resources. But again, some just live for drama. They’re miserable without it. Travel makes you see that your “problems” pale and a positive outcome of that is that it makes you get off your behind, quit feeling sorry for yourself, and address the problems head-on with solutions.

In short, more than learning about friends, I learned something about myself: that I am a different person, more analytical and less critical, and far less judgmental. I returned to Miami, I think, improved as a human being, with greater compassion and caring for the planet and the people who live in it. At times I was tested. But I think I emerged on top and right. So now, as I continue this journey – this time across largely First World countries in Europe – I believe my year in South America will serve me well. My plan is to spend the rest of the year in Europe, and perhaps even the beginning of 2013. Brrrrrrrr…European winter, yes, I know.

As I make my way across the United Kingdom, up to Scotland and Ireland, I will have time to decide whether or not to return to London for the 2012 Olympics. London during the Olympics could be a lot of fun – or a huge mistake. One part of me screams that an international event of this magnitude is a big target for would-be terrorists, at worst, and at best, an overcrowded city overrun by chaos. But the Summer Olympics happens only every four years, so what a wonderful opportunity to experience it, no?  We’ll see. Plenty of time to decide.

So, I bid you adieu, ciao, goodbye, adios Miami. And I say hello Europe at the end of the month. I look… I mean I really, really look forward to seeing my friends scattered across Europe, who have been patiently awaiting my arrival. I know that because they keep asking me when will I get there! I can’t wait.

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