New York, New York

“A city so nice, you have to say it twice.”  I know, I know, I stole that from Letterman.  But seriously, say it with me:  New York *deep inhale* New York *long exhale*.  There’s just something about this city that both fills your lungs with glorious, energizing, buzzing life and sharply takes your breath away with humbling, awe-inspiring admiration at the same time.  My friends and family know that I never refer to NYC as “It”, but rather as “She”, because the ongoing personal relationship I forged with her back in 2007 has been nothing less than intimate, transformative, loving, spiritual, at times tumultuous, but always constructive, and to refer to her as an inanimate object or a mere thing would be irreverent and point-blank treason in my eyes.  I had gone through so much during the 5+ years that I lived there throughout my twenties: growing strong, learning forgiveness and humility, letting go of anger and guilt, looking forward with faith, living each day with joy and love, and taking every step with confidence.  She held my hand and guided me along our journey at each and every turn, offering endless encouragement, the perfect mix of tough and tender, preparing and equipping me to eventually say farewell and set off to sail the world.

When I said Au Revoir to her, I didn’t actually mean the literal doomsday “until God we meet again” goodbye, but a more temporary, “you’re perfect, I love you and will be thinking of you, hold tight, kiss the air” see ya soon.  And then a year of exotic travels, amazing new friends, love affairs, delicious eats, dancing in the streets, plane, train, yacht, tuk-tuk, and speedboat adventures flew by.  I was all mixed emotions when what seemed jarringly sudden, I found myself hectically packing up all of my belongings to board another flight…  back to where I started.  New York *gasp* New York.

It’s not that I had forgotten about her or that I didn’t want to see her again, it’s just, I had forgotten what she felt like, her scent, her sparkle.  What had, just one short year ago, been so intense and so intimate, was suddenly difficult to even conjure up.  I was embarrassed and confused.  “But I’m so loyal,” I pleaded with myself.  For someone who heavily prides herself in her fidelity, I was shocked to be confronted by these hazy memories of her distant regards and vague smells.  Can it be that this past year has sculpted and changed me to the point where I’ve outgrown her?  Will I recognize her?  Will she recognize me???

In hindsight, I see that this reaction was perhaps a bit melodramatic, and in all honesty had only lasted maybe 13 seconds at most, immediately replaced by the elation and excitement that my impending return home induced.  So with a hop in my step, the following day I boarded my flight back from Paris’ CDG to NYC’s JFK and enjoyed the ride.

It took only 20 hours to get back into the full swing of things once I landed.  These first few hours were obviously spent contending with cranky travelers, aggressive taxi-drivers, late-summer hot sticky humidity, torrential rains, and inevitable jetlag, but after I got my initial embarrassing “bonjours” and “pardons” out of the way (because how freakin’ WEIRD it is to have EVERYONE speak English), I got a good night’s rest and woke up with a giddy smile on my face.  We were reunited, and it felt oh-so good.

Walking down Park Avenue from 95th Street to 51st was a much-welcomed haven of smiling doormen greeting me with warm “good morning’s” and “have nice day’s”.  People bustled, dogs barked, children giggled.  The gigantesque glass skyscrapers seemed to envelope me with their tall bodies, hugging me, welcoming me home.  The energy from the long avenue and buzzing cross-streets zapped away my fatigue and filled me with positivity and exuberance.  I saw my former co-workers and bosses, dined and went out nightly with my bestest friends, attended a Yankee game and two Broadway shows (Forever Tango and Newsies), down-dogged in daily yoga classes, and soaked up every second of the sunny two weeks I spent traipsing around Manhattan.  I felt silly for having doubted her.  Because here we were, picking up the pieces right where we left off:  telling stories, catching up, refueling, and falling back in love all over again.  So when I finally told her that I wouldn’t be staying long, that I still had business to attend, and that my next adventure would be Down Under, she just smiled softly, gave me a squeeze, and looked away.  I’m sure out there on those streets, there was a young twenty-three year old girl, calling for help, and as she once did for me, she would be there for her too, forever guiding, forever encouraging, forever loving.  Besides, she knows I’ll be back.
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Singular Magazine Publication

Hello! For those who’ve been wondering, I’ve been home Stateside this past month and soaking up friend and family time before the big move to Sydney! But don’t worry, things are settling down and I’ll have new posts and adventures up shortly.

In the meantime, I’ve been published in Singular Magazine! You can read my article here…

http://singularcity.com/bonjour-paris/

Thank you as always for your love and support!

xo,
Amber

Berlin, Germany

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My dear friend (and former Paris photographer), Sylvie had decided to leave Paris and move to Berlin after a three month yoga/cleansing expedition in India earlier this year. I was sad at the time to receive the news, but had promised that I would come to visit her there as soon as she got settled and was thrilled for her new journey ahead. As life would happen, travels and schedule conflicts postponed this visit until recent. In fact, Berlin would be the last trip I would take during my year long stay in Europe, with my visa quickly expiring and my year of travel coming to a halt… well at least from Paris that is. No matter what though, I wasn’t going to break my promise, and booked a flight on EasyJet from Orly Airport to Schoenfeld in Berlin one week before my departure back to the States.

Sylvie came to pick me up from the airport, and we rode the train together back into town. Her new apartment was located right smack in the middle of East Berlin with a beautiful top floor terrace and great views of the city. She dropped me off and before heading to work handed me a map on which she had carefully circled her apartment and work office location along with a notecard which she had meticulously written an entire day’s tour by foot with clear and explicit directions. I was so touched by the efforts and thought she had put into planning a perfect first day for me! She bustled off to work and left me to shower and get ready for my personalized “guided” tour. She had warned me that the weather had been chilly and rainy, but I joked that I wasn’t worried because I brought the sunshine with me everywhere I went. Sure enough, the morning’s clouds had cleared away and the sun was out shining down and bringing a smile to everyone’s face.

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My tour started out down a trendy hipster shopping street (I would soon learn that almost every street in East Berlin is a trendy hipster shopping street) and towards the Berlin Dome.

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Up the river to Monbijou Park and crossing over Museum Island, and onto Unter den Linden, the big boulevard that cuts through most of the city. From there I walked past Humboldt University and over to Gendarmen Markt which was a beautiful square with gorgeous domed architecture and outdoor cafes.

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Then I headed down to Check Point Charlie, where a memorial to the US Army checkpoint has been erected.

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I continued on to the Holocaust Memorial which was an awesome interactive memorial, a maze of walls at different heights, evoking the sentiment of feeling lost the deeper and darker you go inside.

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A walk along Tiergarten Park gave just a glimpse of the amount of greenspace Berlin has to offer and up again to the Parliament and Bundestag.

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This all took about four hours as I followed my card and meandered here and there, taking in the beauty and history of the city and her architecture. I met Sylvie and her colleagues at their office then headed back home for a quick nap before she finished up for the day. That evening she took me back to Monbijou Park, along the river, where nightly live Salsa or Tango music is played and loads of people come to dance under the tiki lights and stars.

The next day, Sylvie suggested that I visit the former airfield, Tempelhofer Freiheit which has been transformed into everything from a community hippy garden,

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to a kitesurfing strip,

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to a bird and butterfly conservatory, where people come to exercise, conduct yoga classes, sunbathe, play music, and smoke pot.

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It is a ginourmous open space with landing strips and airport still in tact and informational plaques posted about reciting the complicated history of the area. It was so incredibly peaceful there, offering such a zen energy, radically transformed from a site formerly used by the Soviets to oppress and instill fear, to a new place of giving, love, and tranquility. I basked in that energy for a few hours before moving on to an adjacent park, Hasenheide Park, offering endless hills of beautiful fresh green space to Berliners. From there I took advantage of the Turkish locals and ate a delicious kafta sandwich for lunch then made my way along the Canal and over to the East Gallery.

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The East Gallery is in fact the 1200 meters of what remains of the original Berlin Wall. And they’ve transformed it into a art exhibition, a thing of beauty and expression instead of ugliness and separation.

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I walked the entire wall, stopping along the way to take in the extraordinary works of art, touching it, trying to understand what it symbolized to those who lived through and feared it.

After my visit to the Wall, I walked back to Alexanderplatz, the main square in center city with the iconic Television Tower in the middle.

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Then home to rest my feet from another day’s extensive walking. That evening, after Sylvie got off of work, we went to a Falafel restaurant which has live Blues/Jazz music. You see, I was starting to learn that in Berlin, the more random, the better. So why not combine Blues and Falafel? We went out on the town afterwards to some cool lounge bars, speakeasies, and finally a dance club where the Germans showed off their great style and moves.

Sylvie’s hospitality didn’t stop at just personalized tours and taking me to the hottest bars and nightclubs. She wanted to make sure that I got the whole sha-bang, and thus took me to Berlin’s original Curry Wurst joint, Konnopke’s. Apparently having been selling the same curry wursts since 1930, this little outdoor stand had a line wrapped around the block. We patiently waited until we finally arrived and each ordered our own. We stood in the sun and chowed down the famous curry wurst along with a Beck’s beer, the perfect combination to cure our hangovers from the night out before.

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We hung out and rested in another park for the afternoon then retreated home for a much needed nap before another big night out. For dinner we were meeting some friends at a neighborhood Soup and Music street fest. Yes, it was just that, people eating and selling homemade soups, and enjoying grunge art and music at the same time. We hung out for a while outside, enjoying each others’ company, and then made our way to a famous nightclub Wilde Renate. Apparently in Berlin, people don’t go out until after 2am, so we thought it was pretty hysterical that we were the FIRST ones in line and to enter the club (not showing our age at all…). Nonetheless, we had a blast, drinking the local coolkids’ drink, Club Mate with vodka. (I could write a whole separate post just about Club Mate, but I’ll leave that story to rest between the four of us!)

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We spent the next day recovering from our night club outing and that evening went to a lake outside of Berlin, Schlachtensee Lake. Relaxing in nature felt great and did our bodies good.

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I left the next morning to return to Paris, said Tschuss to Sylvie and Auf Wiedersehen to Berlin. It’s always sad to leave friends, but feels wonderful knowing that good friends like Sylvie will always keep in touch and will pick up the pieces right where we last left off in another place at another time.

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Porto, Portugal

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“Lisbon was cute,” I thought to myself as we hopped on the bus to take us back to Porto, but I had heard so many fellow travelers raving about how they had fallen in love with Portugal’s capital that I couldn’t help but wonder if I had missed something. Sure, the people were quite friendly, check. The tram was neat, check. The pastries were major yum, double check. But frankly, to me, there just wasn’t much goin’ on in Lisbon. Even in the supposed hip quarter of Barrio Alto, it felt more like a feeble attempt at best. Oh well, perhaps it was the heat, who knows.
Anywho, it was Porto who brought me much closer to the precarious sentiment of love-falling.

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Even before we arrived to the city center, crossing over a high bridge in the distance, the slightly smaller port city twinkled hazy blue and white lights below, down each side of its hills leading to the Douro river meandering calmly between them.

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A monastery lit beautifully with its Roman arches stood triumphantly atop the right bank, luring and inviting with its mystic auras.

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It was breath-taking, exuding the charm, quaintness, and tangible history that I so crave in old European cities. And the fact that sweet, sumptuous Port Wine comes from its city’s namesake was just the juicy cherry on top of the cake.
The local culinary specialties were charcuterie, a sandwich called Francesinha (which I don’t recommend), and salt cod, prepared in everyway possible. Deep fried salt cod balls, salt cod mixed with heaping mounds of mashed potatoes and olives, salt cod stew, salt cod broiled and served in a juicy sauce with vegetables. (The Francesinha by the way is a white bread sandwich stuffed with the following: ham, sausage, beef, melted cheese, tomato and beer sauce, and sometimes a couple of shrimp on top… um yeah it’s as weird and gag-a-licious as it sounds…)

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Nonetheless, despite the lack of refinement it’s cuisine offered our taste buds, it’s beautiful landscape and ancient architecture was picturesque. 

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The exterior blue tiling we had loved in Lisbon seemed to be even more amplified and exquisite here, telling stories of its proud history.

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We spent a lovely 4 days in Porto, walking and eating along its river banks,

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spending a lazy day at a nearby beach, exploring its crooked and narrow cobblestoned streets, tasting its Vihno do Porto in the designated cellars,

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and taking another cute tram along the palm trees and river. 

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I truly enjoyed Porto. I believe it to be a looked-over Portuguese travel destination and definitely prefer it to its bigger and more frequented sister, and I hope that if you get the chance, you’ll make a quick trip up north to appreciate this hidden treasure of a city.

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