Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

German Transportation is all about Trust

 

 

3AM in the middle of nowhere

3AM in the middle of nowhere

Random Observation/Comment #164: The German railway system essentially depends heavily on an individual’s choice of taking risks.  Tickets are purchased in the stations, but the common high security gates, turnstiles, or even railway information centers do not exist.  Everything has been automated on those ticket machines like in the LIRR, except conductors, or any other type of transportation officer, does not always check the ticket.  In fact, the three weeks I’ve been staying in Germany and taking the subway system, I have not been checked once.  After asking some locals, it seems like there are just random checks where some undercover officer in civilian clothes just asks an entire train car for the tickets.  If you do not have one, then you must pay a fine of 40EUR immediately or 70EUR by mail.  It is highly frowned upon to jump trains, but I think a large portion of the population does it.  Do you think it’s worth the gamble?  Like I mentioned earlier, I have not been checked, so I have no idea how these people dress.  Without the need for hourly employees, it seems like the maintenance for this transportation idea is minimal.  This means that less money is required to keep the trains running, which justifies the lower profit from daily usage.  Interesting business model, no?

 

The combination of the S-bahn (over-ground train) and U-bahn (underground train) forms a fairly simple transportation system.  Everything seems to be low-cost and self-sustaining with minimal reliance on the fares.  This makes me wonder about when this company started and where they make their profits.  If the company is government run, I would expect a more thorough wringing-cycle of the shirts on our backs (that analogy describes the government squeezing every last penny for profit from our oranges (which is analogy for “the man always breaking our balls”)).  If this is a private company, I wonder which numbers the accountant used when calculating the time required before a profit is being made after taking into account the expenses in the extra turnstiles and daily employees. 

Perhaps, it is only the large companies in America that pessimistically (or realistically) predict inflation and are encouraged by the government to increase the job market.  Germany is a relatively young nation as a consequence to the wars leading to a drastic change in government.  Given this more forward thinking and an overall greater trust in human nature, I feel more confident that our world is leaning towards a world that is less dependent on the economy.  Of course we’re always going to be stuck in this vicious cycle of working long hours to pay-off our endless debt, but maybe the world will be more readily automated to explore a different purpose (I think my opinion might be directly affected by the zeitgeistmovement).

As I traveled these trains with many other study-abroad students attending Hamburg, I have noticed a few differences in train etiquette.  Young travelers are loud and just plain obnoxious.  It cannot be helped in some drunken rage, but I often see other Germans with a look of embarrassment and dismissal.  I don’t suspect a dead-silent train ride, similar to the normal Underground, because of the seating arrangements, but I still feel a much less energetic crowd despite the design intentions.

On another note, the system saves money by only opening doors when the special button is pushed. If you remember the entry about The Underground/Tube in London, these buttons are not just tourist traps to make you look silly.  I think you would look even sillier just waiting for the door to open and then missing your stop because the flashing green light or manual door does not aid with any Force powers.  There’s no doubt that these trains use much less energy for opening doors at least 60% less (I actually don’t know but I’m guessing), but would this actually justify building the buttons on every door?  These are questions I don’t know the answer to, but I know It definitely makes people much more aware of the stations and it’s also really fun to push buttons.  Yay, Buttons.

~See Lemons Fool the System

I have no idea how to use the ticket machines.

 

I probably missed at least 3 stops because I didn't open the door

I probably missed at least 3 stops because I didn't open the door

 

I pushed the button even if I didn't need to get off.  Bad etiquette.

I pushed the button even if I didn't need to get off. Bad etiquette.

Advertisements

Hamburg Greets Me Temporarily

 

 

beautiful port city

beautiful port city

Random Observation/Comment #163: Unpacking my bags in this new place was exciting, yet a little depressing.  Every pair of jeans I folded left me with a smile because I knew that they were crusted with great memories, and I knew they would be there when I make new ones in this unfamiliar country.  The t-shirts and short pants I hung up reminded me that this journey will last for six months from the winter snow through the summer sunshine. The shoes that climbed Fuji-san stood there in their natural pose singing, “I can show you the world, shining shimmering splendid.”  The socks in the drawer whispered, “Slip into me and keep me dry.”  This is when I realized I was losing my grasp on reality.  I noticed how the fully unpacked closet looked a little empty – I think this was the depressing part.

 

The university I’m attending at Hamburg has a wonderful “buddy” program where responsible students in your field take the important ambassador role by helping you with the language and take care of the laundry-list of errands required to settle into this new environment.  Enrico and Ilona picked me up from the airport and spent the following few days answering my endless barrage of questions and passing dry uneventful days along my side.  They have never stopped being a useful resource and good friends, and for this, I owe them a great deal of thanks.  It is definitely a relief knowing that my colleagues and new friends are willing to accept my quirky personality and American ways.  Thankfully, their English is amazing or else there might have been a Japan-Airport-incident relapse (those conversations were more like a continuous game of charades).

After unpacking my bags and meeting new roommates (in my living quarters for the next 5 months), I took some time to absorb the indescribable feeling of adrenaline.  I lay on my bed while staring at the ceiling and just wriggled with excitement.  Endless plans raced through my mind and my world became a beautiful performance of fireworks.  I wanted to find a metaphorical bottle to keep some of these overwhelming emotions for another time, but the only thing I had in arms reach was some pen and paper.  I scribbled in a pseudo-random-fashion, yet the lines looked so happy.  I think I should submit it to modern art.  However, when I flipped the sheet over, my emotions changed a little bit.  I drew another set of lines and scratches that resemble the word, “DAMN.” Unfortunately, I scribbled on a very important piece of paper.

I tend to fall into a series of odd behaviors when I arrive in a new, temporary home.  Compared to the week before in London, it’s noticeably less exciting.  In the back of my mind, I don’t feel rushed to do anything, so I allow myself a lot of time to do nothing.  Of course it’s not “doing nothing,” but it definitely is doing something that doesn’t require me to be 6 time zones away in a foreign country.  Sometimes I lose the initiative to seize the day when I know tomorrow will be another one surrounded by the same things.  It wasn’t until my 4th year living in Manhattan that I realized that the freedom would soon be gone.  There are many terrible tourist-mentalities involving cheesy photographs and frivolous spending, but the one I missed while in my bubble was the tourist curiosity.  When I know I’ll only have four days to spend in a new country, I am filled with a new purpose.  Although the task “have fun” is not explicitly written, I feel the need to explore and take advantage of every moment.

The next days were focused on completing the visa, banking, cell phone, insurance, and other details before leaving to Switzerland. Since I had four days here before a week in Switzerland and then the beginning of the research, I experienced the most of Hamburg during two days.  I took random walks and saw the main port area in a quick walking tour (al Enrico y Ilona).  The port view during sunset was, to put it simply, a soothing sight.  It was during this time where Enrico, Ilona, and I “chatted” the most, so I told and heard plenty of interesting stories.  Their welcome has started a very good reputation for the German people as a whole.

Since I am staying near Berliner Tor, I followed a nice day trip walking: north towards Alster Lake, circling across the bridge towards the town hall area, walk around the town hall, and walk all the way back to Berliner Tor.  I wasn’t especially impressed with this walk (probably because London spoiled me), but the weather smiled upon me.  The walk was a little windy, but the sun brightened my day.  I had real German wurst for the first time from a corner shop called MoGrill – believe me when I say that it puts any barbeque to shame.  How do they make the skin so crunchy, yet after the initial crispy bite, each additional chew is an explosion of juices and actual meat textures.  Needless to say, the minimal oil usage and maximum flavor of fresh meat was delicious.  It beats the pig knuckles and leftovers in whatever we call a New York hotdog.

Another must-taste around the Hauptbahnhof station area is the Gelato Ice Cream in the Europe Passage.  It’s 1 EUR for one scoop and 2 EUR for 2 scoops of any of their 32 different flavors.  It was difficult to narrow down my choices to a scoop of Cookies and a scoop of Cream, but I knew this would be on my Frequently Visited List.  Even in the cold weather, everyone was eating ice cream and holding tightly to their scarf.

Unfortunately, these short few days of seeing Hamburg would be the most in-depth days since I’ve been here (I am writing this 3 weeks behind).  In this temporary visit, I saw the port city area and followed a full walking-day.  Despite the frequent good weather during the weeks with my research project, I was still very reluctant to leave my obligations and enjoy the new city.  The days of perfect walking weather just withered away with all chances of exploration.  These were probably some of the most depressing moments in front of my computer.  The warmth of the sun and clear skies seen through those tall office windows made me yearn for freedom.  The funny thing is that cloudy skies and rainy weather has the same effect.  I switch from wanting to be as free as the clear skies to feeling depressed from the dark clouds.  I think this was most likely my procrastination speaking for all normal bodily functions

~See Lemons Taste Test Hamburg

 

my camera was hungry for closeups

my camera was hungry for closeups

London Optimized Date Trips

 

 

follow the bankside for a good time :)

follow the bankside for a good time 🙂

Random Observation/Comment #162: Relationships start in the weirdest ways, such as sparking a conversation over common interests in Live Action Role Playing (LARP-ing), or helping an old lady cross the street who has a beautiful granddaughter.  I hope my last first-date involves an interesting story that can only be invented by this crazy world of probability.  Maybe we would meet while donating blood on Valentine’s Day, and I would have a charmingly playful conversation with her in the seat next to me.  I’d pick up the pink glove she accidentally left behind and try to organize a mingle event with hopes that she would attend.  Unfortunately, I would act awkward and be the regional manager of a Paper Company in Pennsylvania, but it would be like a modern-day Cinderella (The Office reference, btw – I wouldn’t expect my Mom and Dad to get it).

 

First dates have become more of a sport for the new generation of teenagers.  It’s understandable to invest the time and effort to get to know someone you may (or, most probably, may not) spend the rest of your life with, but some people feed on the thrill of meeting a new person and talking about themselves.  It’s shouldn’t be the idea of buying dinner and sleeping with them; there needs to be a mutual attraction and you should genuinely want to find out more about the other person.  In many cases, it’s similar to an interview, but hopefully the other person isn’t mentally checking off boxes (they probably are).

These first dates (where you gauge whether or not this person is psychotic or just slightly mental) are crucial for both parties.  This is a mating ritual; and like all mating rituals, it requires an extra effort to show the best of your personality.  However you choose to bulk your chest and “strut your stuff” is completely up to you, but hopefully this entry can, at the very least, help by parting some advice on the location and activities for this business.  Although I have countless ideas for NYC, I will focus on London. 

As I mentioned in earlier entries, I tend to judge the potential of the city I visit by the number of date-trips I can imagine from a few walkthroughs.  London (in good weather) has surprised me with a large number of beautiful scenes and romantic walks that serve as a wonderful backdrop to a stimulating conversation.  Needless to say, many of the first dates I prefer involve a level of audible communication.  Although Broadway shows (if you’re rich), the movie theater (if you’re not as rich), and free underground concerts (if you’re poor or you’re just into that scene) can be great ideas for dates, I’ve found that they do not offer enough aural room to get to know the other person.  If I spent the bulk of my money on such activities for first dates, my wallet would be inhabited by cartoon moths and dollar bill ghosts with wings accompanied by depressing violin solos.  Instead, I rather invest my money in food.  As a side note: Call me old fashion, but I was just brought up with the idea that no matter how much of a poor college student this guy is, he must pay for the dinner (In my fantasy world, the girl does not make a big deal out of me paying dinner, but offers to pay for dessert or buy me a drink later).

Keep in mind that this idea of a first date focuses on optimum conversation time.  I would suggest the movie thing if the awkward silences occur too often.  In the case where the silences are just unbearably painful to imagine in third person, the relationship will probably be an epic failure anyway.  I’m a firm believer in some sort of chemistry that requires more than just getting lost in each other’s eyes for hours at a time.  As just some basic advice on conversation topics, try to avoid stressful areas like repetitive work (unless they love their job) and focus more on hobbies and goals.  Everyone has some sort of goal in their life, and you’d be surprised at how many stories people have about almost everything.  I’ll leave the details of sweet-talking for another entry – good luck.

Just to clarify: my definition of a date is when only two people are participating in an activity together with knowledge that they are (mutually) interested in each other.  I don’t count “dinner with 8 people where I’m talking to her most of the time” a date.  That is all pre-date status, and I leave the technique of seeing the signs and asking this girl out, for another time. 

Anyway, the dates I suggest will fit the following general outline: walk around towards a planned destination, attend the activity, have dinner at a decent place, have dessert at another place, and walk the girl home.  Note that the main dependency of these dates is the weather, but I will offer alternatives.

  • A stroll along the Southern Thames River – On a Thursday, Friday, or weekend, meet for lunch in Borough market near the London Bridge station.  The day plan is to walk around the Tate Modern and then along the Southern part of the Thames towards the London Eye.  This is a bit of a long walk, so get some soup or coffee at “Eat” or any other poshy looking place along the path is fine.  I would suggest timing the walk around Buckingham Palace to see the sun start setting around 5PM.  The sight from the London Eye is beautiful when the overcast is perfect.  Since the girl (or me) has a camera, take your time with a few pictures and walk at a slower pace.  Benches along the waterway offer a beautiful view and ample time for the “stretch to put your arm around her” move (don’t accidentally knock her out with your elbow).  I don’t have many suggestions for dinner, but I’m sure there’s a “Yelp London edition” somewhere.  The night walk back along the Southern Thames is romantically filled with beautiful lights hung on the trees or reflecting off the water.
  • A stroll along the Northern Thames River – Start near Tower Bridge on the East and walk West through the Old City of London towards Trafalgar Square.  For less walking, start near the Monument stop and then walk West through the narrow streets.  I’m not sure about the romance factor, but pubs actually offer a nice selection of lunches.  Usually dates lean towards afternoons, so this probably won’t be an issue.  To reach Trafalgar Square near the National Gallery, you will pass St Paul’s Cathedral.  The lazy can just take the tube and walk the National Gallery.  Before dinner, walk around Covent Garden.  I would suggest trying a place in Brick Lane for some Indian curry for dinner, but that lasting taste may not be ideal (Be prepared with gum?).  If Brick Lane is a little far, Piccadilly Circus is always a great choice at night.  It’s the Times Square of London and really adds to the atmosphere.
  • Regent’s Park and Wax Museum – Start with the wax museum and spend the day taking pictures with these celebrities.  The common “dry hump every wax figure” is a great way to loosen up the atmosphere – pictures and hilarity ensue.  The afternoon, I would spend strolling Regents Park and maybe Regents zoo.  Zoos are such fantastic dating locations (besides the random putrid smells).  Everybody has a favorite animal, so I’m sure you’ll find at least a smile somewhere.  I actually found a great place around Regents Park for dinner called the Sea Shell of Lison Grove.  The fish and chips there are the best I’ve had in my life.  Since it is a local favorite, it gets very crowded around 6:30PM so I would suggest arriving at 6.
  • Hyde Park and Museum area – Depending on the type of girl, she may or may not appreciate walking around museums all day. Also, depending on your topics of interesting conversations, this museum idea could be just painful to watch.  Regardless, I will suggest an early afternoon at the science museum and a late afternoon stroll through Hyde Park.  The science museum was specifically chosen for some of the neon lit areas.  In addition, the different toys in the cases really bring back memories and stories about our younger years.  Just seeing the old Atari video game console in the window sparked a more playful personality. This open conversation about the little things triumphs the barrage of interview questions.

Walking through this city alone made me sigh a few times and think about old relationships.  I didn’t really know what to do with myself except enjoy the present scenery and hope that I will, one day, be able to share this moment with someone else besides my camera.  I imagine these places will just give an overall new feeling and context for each location.  Sigh.  At least there’s something to look forward to.

I have many more ideas, but I think this is a good start.  This entry is getting too long anyway…

~See Lemons A Little Lonely

 

This walk is much more beautiful with someone around your arm

This walk is much more beautiful with someone around your arm

London Museum Overviews

 

 

British Museum: I waited a good 10 minutes for this.  I'm glad she stood there.

British Museum: I waited a good 10 minutes for this. I'm glad she stood there.

Random Observation/Comment #161: I’ve always enjoyed walking unfamiliar museums alone.  My first sweep through the exhibits would become very boring for someone else because I have a terrible habit of reading the descriptions for what I consider “freakin’ sweet.”  After carefully reading the description, I take a picture of it from different angles and try to imagine myself in the previous time period.  Even science museums offer many new facts and interesting methods of demonstrating our evolution of understanding.  The subsequent times returning to the museum, however, is much better with friends.  On the other hand, art exhibitions should be a much more social gathering.  I’ve had days where I go to the MET by myself and just sit in the Roman section with the beautifully lit white room meticulously detailed with marble pillars and columns, but for the most part, I enjoy discussing art pieces with other people.  The open-ended interpretation of the art from today and 5000 years ago beckons a few short lines sharing how each piece talks to you.  It’s really quite fascinating.

 

While I was in London, I visited the British Museum, Natural History Museum, and Science Museum.  Each of them was special in their own way, but I did feel an urge to get some fresh air after 3 hours of going through the aforementioned routines.  The pictures were plentiful and I really appreciated the overall layout of their sections.  Even though most of these museums did not have a particular preferred ordering or logical explanation for their layout, all the exhibits within their own room were, at least, relevant.

 

Great architecture

Great architecture

I entered the British museum from a side entrance, so it really gave a terribly simple first impression.  I wondered to myself how I was going to spend the next three hours in this place to stay on schedule for a relatively productive day.  To my pleasant surprise, a blinding white cylinder with a very modern feel to its interior design greeted me after walking up the stairs.   Now that I think about it, I’m glad I entered the side entrance first because that wow-factor added to the experience.  It’s like, starting with the bad news first and then finding out the good news was that the bad news was a lie.  The glass ceiling and open space not only made me amazed at its architecture, but also made me feel happy.  It was inexplicably welcoming. 

Centuries of art surrounded this connecting room and I couldn’t help but notice that it gave that cleansing effect.  Traveling from one side of philosophy to the other side of ancient roman sculptures, I had to pass through this white room.  It included a dining area and noticeably had the most people conversing about art and meeting for the day ahead.  The air was so vibrant in contrast to the silent scrutiny to detail behind the glass cases.  I truly loved the design, and the history itself was designated impressive-sized wings as well.  It’s interesting how I saw the entrance last.  Overall, it’s a sight worth seeing (plus, it’s free).

The windows are so well placed

The windows are so well placed

The second day, I visited the Natural History museum near Hyde Park.  It’s attached to the “museum section” of London near the Science museum and Royal Albert Hall.  This museum should probably be renamed the Tribute to Charles Darwin Museum because that’s exactly what it represented.  From the outside, the central architecture is most impressive.  I had a field day just walking to the top and taking pictures of the curves and bends in the stone steps.  I saw a few architecture students sketching these designs and making masterpieces with simple shading techniques. 

The positioning of the windows at the top was perfect and surprisingly lit up the entire main hall.  The four sections of the museum also connected to this major area so the journey through this stone magnificence was required.  It was a different feeling from the white marble in the British museum.  The old brown stone gave it that historical tone.  Just walking in and seeing the dinosaur bone reminded me of the entrance to the Natural history museum in NYC.  It was, to say the least, quite impressive. 

I arrived quite early so the room was mostly empty when I took my pictures.  Later in the day, the tourists and elementary school tours arrived for their little adventures.  In fact, I got a free ticket to the Charles Darwin special exhibit because this high school teacher had extra tickets to distribute.

The content of the museum would be shadowed by the museum in NYC, but it was still entertaining to walk around.  I took many pictures, but it was less interesting that I expected.  Perhaps my comfort museums in nature and science just don’t push my buttons the same way.  It’s like my brother says, “I like pain because it makes me feel alive.”  It seems I tend towards discomfort because it gives me a wider perspective of colorful unknowns I’ve never learned about.  This probably explains why I have a long list of hobbies, yet for none of them would I consider myself an expert (there’s definitely a grammar problem there).  Overall, I loved the dinosaurs and the design, but it did not surprise me.  I think I may have grown out of the “ooooo, a manatee!” phase in my life.

 

Indeed.

Indeed.

The final museum (visited on my second day) was the Science museum.  This one was the most interesting in content, but not exactly my favorite.  It was nice to walk around reading the small little nuggets of information that conveyed that overall theme of the museum, but it just didn’t impress me.  I didn’t feel like I learned anything new after coming here.  I basically just saw some stuff in a case and nodded my head at a slightly faster pace than usual, thinking, “it’s nice that they got a hold of that.”  The exhibits were very well presented and clearly separated into different sections with another impressive open space in the center, but there must have been something missing.  As I read most of the material, it didn’t make me day dream.  Yes, there were really interesting timelines showing the evolution of human thinking, but I basically knew it.  The science impressed me, but my heart wasn’t inside the descriptions.  I guess after all that time of looking at artifacts and living the history, I so dearly wanted to live in the past.  Instead, I needed to shift the gears in my mind to appreciate the present and realize technological evolution.  Perhaps, I overanalyzed the situation.

I was actually quite surprised with my choice that the British museum was the one that was the most enjoyable of the three.  I know many people would disagree and look at me with puzzlement how a scientist and engineer can like ancient history more than his passion and roots, but I had to go with my mood.  I looked at artifacts with amazement, and it made me more curious.  My alternative mindset in the science and history museums was filled with such unwarranted scrutiny and judgment.  I couldn’t stop myself, and after some time, I had to rush it.  I probably would have enjoyed the science and history museum with people, but as a solo-traveler, I preferred the British museum.  On the other hand, the Science and Natural History museums are both in the same area so it helped me burn more time.  In addition, these museums are much more interesting for photographers.  I think I took more pictures that day than any other. 

All three museums represent evolution: civilizations, art, technology, and natural.  They have their own style or representation and you’ll definitely learn something new.  I’m glad I saw all three because it would be very difficult to solidify an opinion without a taste from each plate.

~See Lemons Museum Hunting

Evolution at its best?

Evolution at its best?

Aimless Walking

 

 

Yay, close focus.

Yay, close focus.

Random Observation/Comment #160: True aimless walking can be discovered deep within a park.  Parks are usually much more beautiful during the summer, but the lack of people during the clear skies made it a plausible date location.  The few flowers that I did see got my (camera’s) undivided attention.  It was peaceful walking around while listening to a deep British voice telling you about the Discworld.  I considered practicing German or brushing up on some Japanese, but I wasn’t in the mood for languages.  I had a better time forming the in-depth descriptions in my mind.  The characters are so well-developed and consistent that I couldn’t help but predict their next actions.

 

Separately, walking parks and roaming museums would be boring as full-day activities.  Even as an avid museum-goer, there’s only so much history you can absorb before your brain melts.  Likewise, walking around parks is very relaxing, but could become unbearable without company (there are only so many conversations I can have with myself).  However, doing half-days of each was a great strategy for balancing the nature and knowledge lovers.

I’ll devote this entry to the two major parks I visited, but my day trips consisted of:

 1) British Museum + Regents Park,

2) Science Museum + History Museum + Hyde Park

These parks and museums are in close vicinity so this would save money on buying tube tickets.  Because of my love of walking, I just spent the whole day walking to and from Regents Park to Hyde Park (which would be the equivalent of the distance between Central Park and Union Square).  I would not suggest doing this without someone to talk to or some relaxing music.

The parks both had grass, trees, open fields, and randomly scattered statues, but they were unique in their own way.  Regents Park had fewer statues and a much nicer walking path surrounded by neatly trimmed bushes.  All of the paths have park benches on either side and the end usually leads to a large fountain.  As you walk farther northwest, the park looks less scenic and transforms to a large sports field.  You can fit about 6 football fields in a grid formation, so you can imagine the number of teenagers that take advantage of this space.  Further north is the Regents Zoo, which I didn’t visit, but it looked –well, like a zoo, from my research.  Seeing the museums in the morning and saving the parks in the afternoon allows the chance of watching the sun set and sky pass through the most beautiful blends of orange and red.  The large field in Regents Park really shows an unreal 360 view without buildings or trees.

 Hyde Park has many more statues; most notably the Royal Albert golden monument across from the Royal Albert Hall.  I bet there’s a very interesting story about how it was built or what it represents, but to me, it just looked massive.  The gold statue in the middle is probably 3 meters tall, so the whole thing is at least 5 stories.  The statue overlooks the Royal Albert Hall, which is an impressively large dome.  With different trimmings, it could be a nice concert hall or coliseum.  Although the walk was not quite as dramatic as Regent’s Park, it was still a nice park with a few lakes and rivers along the sides.  The wildlife was mediocre, but I wasn’t really expecting an episode of animal planet in the middle of a large city.  It was a much needed change in atmosphere, and I would definitely suggest incorporating these nature walks into itineraries.

If I had to choose between the two parks, I would probably prefer Regents Park.  I know many would disagree, but I just had a better vibe about the different sections.  I think I will have a better idea of this comparison when I actually see some flowers when I return in the summer.

~See Lemons Walk the Parks

It's hard to miss. It needs a scale.

It's hard to miss. It needs a scale.

sunset by the underground near regents park

sunset by the underground near regents park

Borough market is delicious

 

 

It wasn't too bad :P

It wasn't too bad 😛

Random Observation/Comment #159: Food truly bridges gaps between cultures.  I live to eat, not the other way around (well, I guess also the other way around, but you know what I mean).  I am not a chef, but I do love cooking and trying new foods.  Tasting the famous cuisines in each of my traveled countries (and also reading my brother’s personal bucket-list), I’ve decided to add an empty checkbox for: travel the world and make a living reviewing food.  Throughout college, my roommates and I had a few experimental dinners that fit the typical hungry-college-student-with-limited-time-and-no-money.  Although this wasn’t exactly fine dining, many of the tastes worked themselves out.  Hopefully, my stay here with the diverse group of cooks in the apartment here in Germany will improve my cooking.

 

 I’ve tasted a large variety of meats, but I’m always open to finding “the other white meat.”  Borough market really fit my criteria perfectly.  Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the market is open from around 10AM to 4PM.  During this time, the little area is packed with shops selling the best goods from every country.  Locals and tourists alike flood the market for fresh goods and delicious lunches.   I would take a train for an hour, even if it’s just to smell the mixed aromas of a large variety of local dishes.  I wish I had more time in the area to try more foods, but the three lunches that I had were mouthwatering.

The kangaroo burger was delicious. After watching countless seasons of my favorite Food Network shows (Bizarre Foods, No Reservations, Hell’s Kitchen, Iron Chef, Man v Food), I’ve found that the descriptions of meat tastes are very difficult.  Sometimes a new type of meat starts its own category – Kangaroo, in this case, is just one of those meats that has this odd grass-y taste.  It doesn’t taste bad, but it is very unique.  I was expecting something different, but then again, I could have had any random percent of kangaroo in the burger.  It’s important to try it without any sauces to get the texture and real flavors, but burgers are never a pure indication of the meat.  I was really searching for that generalization for the taste of kangaroo, but I really must try it in different preparation settings to get a solid opinion.  Grounded meat that’s mixed and grilled sometimes loses an original flavor, but it was very tasty, none-the-less.  If I wanted a more thorough angle, I think I would need to have a grilled, broiled, and baked.  The kangaroo burger in itself was very good, especially with a mix of mayonnaise and cranberry sauce.  The tangy zing really compliments the flavor well.

This kangaroo stand also sold ostrich, which I will try next time.  Lunch was such a difficult decision because everything looked and smelled so delicious.  The spices all contributed to a different side of my tongue.  I wanted salty meat, but then I saw huge truffles which immediately tickled my sweet tooth.  I was like a little kid running around this huge market, having the most difficulty deciding what to get (I guess that was a terrible simile).

All of the different types of foods are cooked in front of you, so I really had to restrain from overflowing my stomach (or spending all my money – whichever came first).  Not to forget mentioning that everyone eats their purchases on the street.  I saw so many slow chews with lightly closed eyes and pursed lips; puckering to maintain the flavor for an extra second.  For some reason, everyone looked like an expert taste tester and just made the facial expressions that begged me to have what they were having.  It was almost embarrassing to watch me ask everyone what they were eating and where they got it.  I should really learn to use some restraint when speaking to strangers, but I figured I’m not doing anything wrong until I ask them for a bite of it (which I didn’t do, but really wanted to). 

This is definitely a must-see in London.  Enjoy the atmosphere and try not to spend all your money on food.  I’m glad my taste-buds also had a chance to enjoy the trip.

~See Lemons Eat Everything

Yay, Truffles~

Yay, Truffles~

St Christopher’s Village vs. International Student House

 

 

6-mixed room! yay!

6-mixed room! yay!

Random Observation/Comment #158: I am a very trusting (and hopefully, trustworthy) person.  I do not stupidly leave my things unattended, but I don’t expect the bad traveling nightmares to actually happen in real life.  Things have disappeared from me that I love, but the reasons for their disappearance have been patched and fixed to prevent future disappearances.  However, more and more evidence from talking to friends and random travelers, have scared me into a bit more of a cynic.  In one case, a traveler left his jacket on a couch in a drunken state and had his camera and iPod stolen from him the next day.  Granted, this was stupid to leave important things unattended, but I could see it happening.  In another case, a traveler used his credit card at a store and had the numbers stolen by an employee.  Although he didn’t have to pay the ridiculous credit spending, it completely ruined the start of his vacation.  I’m not quite sure if any level of planning can prevent this from happening.  I wouldn’t even know how to “be more careful” with these situations.  Let’s just hope my karma gauge has more optimistic readings.

 

Within my 7 days in London, I stayed 4 nights in St. Christopher’s Village near the London Bridge station and 3 nights in International Student House near Regents Park.  When I booked the rooms, I decided to choose the cheapest one in the best location first, and then pick a little bit more expensive single room to keep my larger luggage safe.  I found that the first four nights were ten times more fun than the last three.  Besides playing ping pong for 3 hours on Sunday (I’m so lucky with these things), I was tempted to head back to the hostel and meet new people. 

Don’t get me wrong, I was more than happy to spend some time alone and write some entries, but it was a large switch in my personality.  As a social creature, my inner beast was being caged within those four walls.  I considered the many advantages of having my own room, but there was that wagging finger that told me to enjoy the solitude.  In that short amount of time, I allowed myself to pursue my personal interests.  I collected some new beer bottle-caps and enjoyed the museums and parks in the area.  I recommend at least one day sitting back and enjoying the vacation in your own way.  In no way was I bored; there was so much to think about…  The Terry Pratchett audio-books also provided a nice background.  It was also a good time to catch-up with the German and Japanese Pimsleur learning.

St Christopher’s Village has a wonderful staff with a nice connection to Balmer’s bar next door.  There’s free wifi, a movie room, a chill room, a nice roof and Jacuzzi during the summer, and a basement “club” section.  There are shared bathrooms and showers, but the rooms come with locks.  Lockers are available, so bring your own deadbolt to keep things safe.  Most of the rooms are mixed 6-bed dorm style, which has been the best way to meet people.  A popular conversation starter from “Andy in Interlaken” is “we’ve been sleeping together for a few days and I don’t even know your name.”  I think this is tip-toeing the line of comfort, awkwardness, and appropriate etiquette for first impressions, but that’s why it’s so clever.

The International Student House, while it comes with very nice living arrangements, is not a major hang-out place.  I did not drink during my stay, by personal preference, but I don’t think there would have been a good crowd regardless.  The ping pong was definitely a great little discovery, which evened out the other days, but overall, I would rather spend less money partying it with other hostel lovers.

~See Lemons Prefer Hostels

 

a chandalier in reception? classy... maybe too classy

a chandalier in reception? classy... maybe too classy

 

 

 

Wait, you went to Catholic Church on a weekday… twice?

 

 

It took me forever to wait for no cars in the street

It took me forever to wait for no cars in the street

Random Observation/Comment #157: Our new generation is not one built on religion.  I know some people who would rather praise the next upcoming processor than an invisible man in the sky.  Old routines have maintained the churches, but unless you’re near the Vatican, most establishments don’t seem to be receiving the attendance or donation levels that they used to.  The number of believers dwindles as technology shows us the tangible miracles.  The community once maintained through Sunday mornings or Friday to Saturday nights is replaced with Facebook and MySpace (just kidding, MySpace sucks).  Face time seems less and less important and yet we’re all becoming more and more connected.  It’s absolutely fascinating, yet sends chills down my spine, considering the next generation’s social skills (or lack thereof).

 

I attended the Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral services because I honestly didn’t want to pay to look inside.  Arriving a little before 5PM, we told the person at the door that we were there for the service, which gave us the free ticket inside.

I think I’ve only attended church once in my life, in which I spent half of the time sleeping and the other half day-dreaming about evolution.  It was (no offense) a waste of my time.  I felt no connection, nor did I understand anything in the ritual.  I tried to read into the words they asked me to speak, but the mixture of Greek and old English terms just confused me.  Accepting a Lord and Savior from 2000 years ago, and begging for forgiveness just seemed to be a little bit of a downer.  I firmly believe in reflecting on my own life and trying to repent for my sins in my own ways, but I do not fear this judgment of an all-seeing and all-knowing source. 

Regardless of what I believe (or don’t believe), I attended the service to expand my understandings.  The architecture of the churches and cathedrals was absolutely incredible.  Its size and detail made my eyes glaze over and wonder the immense power of religion to erect such a massive structure.  St Paul’s Cathedral amazed me the most, with its large dome and gold-covered-everything.  My gaze was always upwards – I wonder if this was the point.  I felt a level of appreciation for the artwork, but none of the beliefs seeped through.  I stared with a serene expression – it was my visual equivalent of tasting fresh toro.  Many people close their eyes to concentrate on a specific sense.  I closed all my other senses to memorize the lines and try to grasp my insignificance.  It gave me this lonely feeling, yet I could imagine it aiding the love of community formed under one purpose.

The service itself was a ritual wrapped in different sized hats and white robes.  The choir sang beautifully, but it’s no comparison to the devil’s music.  It took 15 minutes to get through the formalities.  If G-d does exist, I think he would be bored hearing the same thing every week.  I wonder if He’s like Santa Claus, and needs believers to continue spreading cheer throughout the world.  I thought I would also receive some sort of enlightenment from the priest’s readings from a specific part of the text, but it was a simple story with a simple moral.  It wasn’t teaching me a way to live my life – it was really just saying, “Life sucked for this guy, you should be thankful and learn his lesson.”  In fact, I could have probably read a line from FML and have the same reflective thoughts.  Yes, I just said FML was a condensed, and more entertaining, version of some sections in the bible.  Smite-ith me.

But, really, what matters is the present.  Many of the things that we may regret only linger in our minds. Do most people have enemies?  Is holding-grudges still a trend these days?  It seems to me that time cures many of these pains and misgivings.  Fights have continued through generations where the reason for fighting has been completely lost.  Maybe I am more forgiving or more forgetful than most people in this world, but something stupid, like some elementary school teasing, doesn’t warrant any extreme actions.  I wouldn’t personally know, but does that scarred childhood cause an inherent blindness to the beauties of today?  Don’t we have control of our lives to make it better instead of wallowing in some self pity and blaming it on someone else?  Unless you’re building a time machine to change the past, there’s nothing to do but go through the phases and rebuild your life.  You can start a drug problem or be self-destructive, but these are all just distractions from being productive. 

Introducing logic to an emotional problem may be easier for an outside perspective, but I hope time does heal those who need it.  We are adaptive creatures – I’m sure everyone can muster the strength to overcome obstacles and achieve personal goals.

 

~See Lemons Mumble

st paul's cathedral entrance

st paul's cathedral entrance

Abnormal weather

 

 

View from the Waterloo Bridge looking South

View from the Waterloo Bridge looking South

Random Observation/Comment #156: In planning for my trip to London, I had many day trips that were labeled as “just in case it rained.”  This made up half of the days I planned (for good statistical reasons), but I never fathomed such clear skies for my stay.  The weather was a phenomenon and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk around and take pictures, instead of locking myself inside a few museum exhibitions.  This is just more evidence that planning, at the level I’ve brought it (which deems many to ask me, “why are you even going if you’ve already google-mapped everything and looked at all the corresponding pictures?”), is overrated. 

 

I fully took advantage of the weather by attending walking tours and wandering the city with an open mind.  I use the term “wander” often to mean just aimlessly walking, but in this case, I was in good company and had the underlying time-restraint of attending the Westminster Abbey free service at 5PM.  The path I took was new and fascinating, and I consider it a plausible date-trip for nice weather.

Starting around 1PM, we walked from the Shakespeare Center to the Tate modern and crossed the Millennium Bridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral.  The pictures flowed instinctively, but since I attended the Old City of London Tour the day before, I became the tour guide and repeated many of the memorable stories about the area.  I was surprised that I had seen and learned more about London in 3 days than most of the local Londoners.  In fact, most tourists visiting New York probably know more about the history through the NYC free tours than I do. 

This tourists-local contrast in attitudes has become an overarching theme in my observations throughout my travels.  I’m always surprised at how much we change when we feel this obligation to absorb the new culture and life around us in a foreign land.  When our time in a new country is limited to a few days, we seem to open our eyes and live with much more of a passion.  The time in our lifetimes is limited: Why must we wait until the last minute before we realize that life is short?  I wish this flame burning behind my eyes continues and are not smothered by routine and repetition.  Shouldn’t everything be interesting?  Isn’t life wonderful?

Anyway, I digress.  My path detection algorithm heading towards the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey was mainly governed by pretty colors, photo opportunities, and the traffic signals.  I knew the general destination, but the specific streets just blend together when you’re having in-depth conversations.  The cool breeze and warm sun made this walk immensely enjoyable.  My list of tasks was empty and I felt my main purpose in the moment was to enjoy the beauties of life.  I wanted to reach my arms outward and just embrace the sunlight.  I grinned like an idiot for seemingly no reason, but I think I knew it was for a deeper love of life.  My mind raced with philosophical questions, but I tried my hardest to just be there.  It’s been a long time since my mind, body, and soul has stayed within the same encasing – it’s flimsy, but it will have to do.

The photos with the setting sun behind the Houses of Parliament and across from the London Eye were breath-taking.  I walked at a snail’s-pace with a cast on its… appendage.  If a snail wore shoes, I would be that snail with shackles around them.  Maybe a more appropriate analogy: I walked like the typical Californian – 3 steps forward and 2 steps back.  This was my favorite day in London.

~See Lemons Lucky

 

Dali melting clock with an artistic flair

Dali melting clock with an artistic flair

Favorite.

Favorite.

Old City of London tour

 

Marcel enthusiastically telling a story

Marcel enthusiastically telling a story

Random Observation/Comment #155: London is rich with stories that simply can’t be captured within those camera angles.  The history is presented in such a hilarious way by tour guides and it adds an extra layer to the architecture and old buildings.  It may be filled with many photographic opportunities, but I really suggest devoting a bit of your attention to the enthusiasm.  These tours really give a nice overview and introduce the main attractions that can be explored in your personal time.  It’s all outdoors walking, so be sure to dress warmly and check the weather forecasts.

 

As with my previous entry discussing the free Royal London Tour, I will try to give a general idea of the Old City tour main attractions with a few stories and personal opinions stuffed in between the lines. 

This tour costs 10EUR normally and 8EUR for students.  I thought it was a little pricy, but I personally though that the stories and pictures are worth it.  The fluency of the tour guide makes me believe the tour is well rehearsed, but questions always lead the enthusiastics on tangents – these little nuggets of knowledge are what people should dig for.  It’s important to ask questions, so stay curious and don’t be shy to interrupt (as long as it’s not in the middle of an exciting story).  Usually, there’s always that one guy (more-so than girls) that makes random comments and really tries to stump the tour guide.  As a guide for Cooper in my younger days, I find that these are the people that keep the conversation with the group stimulating.  Thanks, a—hole (there’s always one).

The tour starts at 10AM by the large compass on Tower Hill train station on the District/Circle line and will last about 3 hours, ending near the Royal Courts of Justice.  Starting from the compass, the tour guide will talk about the Romans and their persistency on returning to London and leaving it ruins a few hundred years ago.  Next, the Tower of London is revealed as more of a castle than a tour.  It’s close to 15 GBP to enter, but it was highly recommended because the tours there are accompanied by detailed descriptions and interesting stories.  The Beefeaters (or the guards in this castle) are called this name from their delicious payments (I wouldn’t mind working for beef, but I would probably do more if there was a consistent supply of mashed potatoes).  There will be a hilarious story about some idiots trying to break-in and steal the Crown Jewels, but the moral of this story is that King Edward is a weirdo.  If you attend, you’ll see that King Edward being a weirdo is just one of those tour themes.

 

Tower Bridge (not London Bridge)

Tower Bridge (not London Bridge)

 

Walking from the Tower of London, you will see the Tower Bridge which everyone thinks is London Bridge.  London Bridge is not impressive at all, but a lot of stupid Americans get it wrong and think Tower Bridge is London Bridge (like the Black Eyed Peas album cover).  I’m pretty sure it would be easier if they just changed the name. 

Walking along the north side of the Thames, there will be a few sewage stories about the Great Stink of London.  Mental note: faucet water comes from the Thames, which used to be the main exit to the sewage system.  It was not discouraged to drink the faucet water, (since Marcel, our tour guide, held a bottle of tap water that he so bravely drank throughout the tour) but I would personally not recommend it.  The current filtration system that those British added as a hacky-fix sometimes overflows when it rains too much (which it usually does).

 

Another main attraction is the monument that commemorates the Great Fire of London, which basically destroyed London due to high winds and tightly packed buildings.  It reopened around early February and you can walk up 300 steps to the top for a nice view of the city.  When you come down, you will get a certificate that says you climbed it (3GBP).  After 90% of the City of London was burnt down in this Great Fire, King Edward denied any sensible plans for restructuring and just rebuilt everything the way it was – thus the complicated three-way intersections and terribly confusing roads everywhere.  The closely packed buildings also lead to the construction of many small pubs in narrow streets, and eventually, lost, drunken people.

 

Great view for St Paul's Cathedral

Great view for St Paul's Cathedral

 

Continuing, the tour passes by a pretty important bank while walking towards St Paul’s Cathedral.  Apparently it runs a few stories underground and was used in the Harry Potter’s description of the Dwarven-protected gold.  Reaching St. Paul’s Cathedral, the tour guide will tell you that you can attend for free for services at 5PM every day.  This is better than paying, but apparently you can walk to the top and see the entire city.  The government bought the air space around the cathedral so it would be illegal to build anything that blocks its beautiful view in any direction.

 

From the St Paul’s Cathedral, the group will follow the North side of the Thames and discuss the different bridges along its path.  The famous Millennium Bridge that swayed from the synchronous lateral movement will, of course, have its own story segment. Walking west, the Blackfriars Bridge is next and then a small segment where rich lawyers live in a city within a city within a city.  I think I will let the tour describe this for you.  The Waterloo Bridge (a little bit further west) should be the most interesting for photographers because the view from the north end includes all of the bridges laterally and longitudinally (if that makes sense).

 

Hogwarts clock tower?

Hogwarts clock tower?

 

The last area is the Royal Courts of Justice which has the famous clock used in Harry Potter.  It has wonderful architecture and is actively used for celebrity court-dates.  I would recommend not talking to the celebrities because more often than not, walking out of a court house does not deem good moods.  The tour ends with a very compelling story about the bombing of London in WWII.  It really reflects the common-grounds in humanity that bridge gaps in poverty and class.  It’s sad, yet uplifting – you’ll see.

As the tour ended at 2PM and the weather wasn’t particularly holding up well, I walked to Trafalgar square and visited the National Gallery for some artistic stimulation.  I can see how some people can spend 3 or 4 hours here, but I was feeling a cold sweat from the windy walk.  I wound up going back to the hostel and sleeping it off – that is, I intended to, and bumped into the Norwegian teachers.  The night proceeded with some drunken adventures.

The tour was definitely worth the money and the tour guide was completely fluent and knowledgeable of the subject.

 

~See Lemons in a City within a City within a City

 

Pound it.

Pound it.