Tuesday, 17 September 2019

First Time in Athens

evan-wise-view over athens from the acropolois

When I left London, I couldn't head home right away. It would have felt too final...like This Is Actually It. Therefore I decided to do a little detour via Greece, took my mind off from everything that had just happened in the final days and explored Athens instead.

The trip itself didn't start too well. My Easyjet flight stayed grounded for 4h so when I got to Athens it was already Tuesday morning. Tuesday itself was a proper Vampire Day. I wallowed in self-pity, cried lots and only made it to the pool, my eyes covered with a pair of sunglasses to hide my red eyes and dark circles. It took me a while to get out of my head and into the adventure - and once I ventured out, life got slowly better.

So here's how I enjoyed life in Greece for the next four days:

kylie-docherty-athens city impressions

The Best Time For Visiting Athens


This is not gonna be an affordable city break as Athens, or better Greece in general, is pricey the majority of the year. Flights with Easyjet from Gatwick between April to early October range pretty much around the £ 300 mark return.

OUCH, I KNOW!

But, let‘s keep positive, it means the city has a sunshine and incredible weather guarantee. I went in mid-August and the average temperature per day was approximately 35 degrees, meaning most of my active time was during the night as it was too scorching in the day. The only way to survive the heat in this scenario is a pool at the hotel of which there aren‘t that many in Athens. However, if you‘re going in August, the city annually celebrates the pinnacle of summer during the full moon circle. It‘s a very special night with lots of celebrations, free concerts and museums to visit. Everyone will be out and about on the streets all night long transforming Athens into a buzzing place.

Where To Stay?


For the third time lucky in a row, I booked an incredible hotel (usually I‘m shit at choosing hotels) and stayed at COCO-MAT Athens BC. It had my name written all over it mainly because the place had everything I could have asked for and more:

  • Rooftop Bar & generous (instagrammable) Pool Terrace
  • Impeccable 360 degree views over the city including the Acropolis
  • Stargazing game was very strong
  • Targeted at us childless Millennials
  • Lots of interesting, young and dynamic people
  • Uber stylish, spacious rooms with queen size beds, super comfy, quiet AND a silent air con
  • Location, literally right in the centre and 5 mins away from all the main attractions and actions
  • Extremely friendly and personal staff
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Bike rental; ever since my solo trip to Vienna I prefer hotels with their own bikes
  • Bathroom Slippers
  • The rooftop bar offers relaxed al fresco dining at night with some sexy beach house tunes (not Vanilla Radio, but equally as good) 

coco mat bc athens hotel views pool and acropolis
Coco Mat Athens BC view rooftop bar

Part of the trip being so enjoyable was all down to COCO MAT BC. I felt in really good hands and knowing this place exists would be reason for me enough to go back to Athens in a heartbeat.

What To See & Do


Uh, well you don‘t go on holidays to hang out at the hotel all the time, however in comparison to my Rome sightseeing, I found Athens had not that much history left and most of the archeological sites are a bit repetitive. During my 4-day stay I managed to visit the following sights:

  • Acropolis Museum. This one was on my hotel‘s doorsteps and I managed to visit it for free during the Full Moon event. The museum boasts with the history of the Acropolis and numerous archeological finds from old vases to sculptures and fresco. The museum is well designed with open planned exhibition space but I felt less engaged and spend overall a good 90 mins. 

museum of acropolis in athens

  • Acropolis and Surrounding Slopes. This is the highlight of Athens, right? Ascending is very steep and most of the stones are very slippery and polished. I would never attempt ascending during the daytime as it is way too hot to cope with the level of steepness. The best time I would say is during the early evening at around 5pm which gives you approximately 3h before closing time to ascend the hill, check out the ruins and enjoy the view over the city. Apart from that there‘s not much to do up there, so once you descend you can also take pictures of the Dionysus Amphitheater in the South Slope and explore more archeological treasures such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus south slope acropolis athens
view from the acropolis over athens
view from the acropolis over athens

  • Less history but more fun is the Museum of Illusions. Similar to the Camera Obscura in Edinburgh, the museum plays with optical illusions and makes for some great picture opportunities. It‘s a fun and playful way to engage with different perspectives, experiment with colours and lights and mess around with mirrors.

museum of illusions in athens

  • Archeological sites on the North Slope. Similar to the Alhambra in Granada, the Acropolis thrones majestically over the city and is undoubtedly the hotspot for attracting tourists. Nearly all of the touristic happenings are centered around the Acropolis making it a bit like the Kaaba in Mecca as you‘ll find yourself circulating the Acropolis all day long. There‘s a mix of restaurants, tacky souvenir shops and of course more archeological sites to explore such as The Ancient Agora of Athens, Temple of Hephaestus or Hadrian‘s Library.
  • Around the Acropolis is the Centre of Tourism with restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops and tonnes of souvenir and jewellery retailers. In that respect, Greece hasn‘t changed in over 20 years, those shops still sell sponges, fridge magnets, spices and everything is cliche coloured in blue and white. Shop owners are a bit intense as they will watch every of your move and you can‘t browse in peace as they suspect you of stealing at any moment. In the restaurants, however, Greeks are super nice and friendly – a whole different level in comparison to Rome.

beautiful streets in athens
museum of illusions in athens
museum of illusions in athens

  • In fact, I met lots of nice Greek people. My taxi driver on arrival was a quirky old lady who didn't stop talking about Athens, the up-coming Full Moon event and where to go and where to avoid. The hotel staff were super lovely when I arrived completely messed up and freezing cold from staying on an air plane for more than 7h and they insisted I should see the rooftop at 1:30am in the morning. A few days later I met a lady who took care of the many stray dogs in the pedestrian and we fed them together AND there's my taxi driver on the final day who philosophised with me over the meaning of life and our internal compass will guide us to the right place. LOVED IT!
  • Monastiraki in the North of the Acropolis is quite the place with a lively square and some quirky shops and establishments around. 
  • Getting lost on a Bike Tour. I ended up not finding the Museum of Illusions and stumbled across a few hidden side streets in Monastiraki which were super pretty. The street Agias Theklas behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seamed with umbrellas and quirky cake and dessert shops. 

bike tour through athens
street with umbrellas in athens
sightseeing tour on a bike in athens

  • Greeks love and know their desserts. There were lots of incredible sweet shops lined up to make sure you'll get your sugar shock. There's one called Kayak early on at the pedestrian zone. Waffles, Pancakes, Bubble Waffles, Chimney Cake and tonnes of Ice Cream. There's more by the Hard Rock Cafe called Hans & Gretel. A huge candy store which serves bubble waffles, chimney cakes and ice cream but all on the sickly over sugar coated level. Right next to it is gelateria Da Vinci and a five minute walk by the ministry of foreign affairs is cake shop Little Kook. It's a paradise!

Hans and gretel bubble waffle desert candy store athens

  • I would have never thought that Stargazing in the City would be possible, but from the rooftop terrace of my hotel, I had stellar views every night. There was no light pollution and a clear summer night sky was visible all night long. Especially during the Full Moon night on Thursday, the views were magnificent. 

full moon summer event in athens greece
Prime spot coco mat athens bc hotel rooftop bar

  • I found a random sticker advertising a local taxi company glued to the gates of The Temple of Olympian Zeus and it turned out to be the best ride I've ever had. Happy Transfer is cheaper than the local taxi services and they do all of their marketing through word of mouth. My driver was super friendly, personal and we've been talking about the deep meaning of life, and how we should always listen to our inner compass as it will guide us to the right places. It was just one of those nice moments that confirmed that there's more to life and something bigger and better waiting for us out there. 

happy transfer sticker taxi airport transfer greece athens
acropolis north slope archeological sites and ruins
ancient greek church north slope acropolis athens

Quite the spiritual trip, right? At the end of the week I felt ready to go home but with a mission. For the next couple of months I'm planning to spend some of my housing deposit on travelling as I'd like to explore and experience as much as life has to offer. I still keep my eyes open for the perfect job as I mentioned in my London post, I will need to go where my energies are reciprocated.

I've been also reading this super interesting book about Life Design and Prototyping Experiences (I'll post something about this life changing book later this month) and this is exactly what I'd like to try out in the coming months.

I'm going to hike the final 100km of the Camino De Compostela in Spain - an adventure which will start tomorrow.

Wish me luck and Thanks so much for reading.

Till next time,
Carolin
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Thursday, 12 September 2019

Solo Trip To Vienna. Part 2

cycling tour across vienna and castle schoenbrunn

After two awesome days, my solo trip in Vienna continued with another two jam-packed days.

Day: 3 Watching Life Go By


My first stop of the day was the Hundertwasser House in the northeast of the city. I spend a great amount of time here, mainly admiring the architecture from the outside and wandering through the several themed cafes and souvenir shops. The shops were all different and competitive in pricing, but I found the best one to be inside the Hundertwasser Village where I got a few postcards and a replica print.

The Hundertwasser House itself is a residential building so you won’t be able to go inside and have a look around. I've completely forgotten that there’s an actual museum just down the road. Bummer! But I guess that one will be on the list for another time. After that, I walked back into town to see the Astronomical Clock at Hoher Markt which is a bit unnoticeable at first and you could easily miss it. It reminded me of the clock in Prague and there’s another one in Bern which is similar.

Hundertwasser Haus in Vienna
Astrological clock Hoher Markt Vienna

Next on my sightseeing list was a visit to the Prunksaal at the National Library, one of the most inspiring and elaborate libraries in the world. It is located next to the Spanish Riding School, so I was also able to pick up my ticket for tomorrow’s performance. Luckily it was early in the day and I nearly had the Prunksaal all to myself. There’s something magical about a room full of books and the marbled floor was insane!

After my visit, I was mysteriously drawn into a bookshop and bought myself a book and a fashion magazine. With both under my arm, I spend the rest of the sunny afternoon at Café Hofburg, which is located past the Spanish Riding School. I must have sat there for like 2h, enjoying the sun, a nice slice of classic German strawberry cake and a hot chocolate topped with cream and pistachio sauce. I would flick through my magazine, but to be honest, I had a prime spot for people-watching and I just couldn’t resist observing the tourists. In the late afternoon, I strolled over to the Volksgarten, took more pictures and got back to the hotel. It was one of those early warm summer evenings with no care in the world and I spend a bit of time at the hotel to relax and charge my phone.

Prunksaal National Library Vienna
cake and hot chocolate served at cafe hofburg in vienna
opera house and volksgarten vienna
solo trip to vienna prunksaal

Later that evening, I was back on the road towards the Prater and I let out my inner child and passion for playgrounds. I had the best time ever because I haven’t felt that happy in a very long time and I felt all the stress and worries from London were suddenly lifted off my shoulders. I ate candy floss and marshmallow waffles, went on the chain merry-go-around twice until I got sick, I found a Langos stand hidden away in between the car dodgems and watched other people enjoying the rides whilst it got slowly dark. All in all a perfect end to a wonderful day.

Day 4: Freestyle Cycling Tour


I can’t stress enough how uber-cool my hotel in Vienna was. It was not only a converted office house with hammocks and walk-in showers, its own bakery and a laidback hipster atmosphere, it also offered hotel guests the opportunity to rent either a Vespa or a bike to explore the city. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, it had cooled down a lot that day, so taking a Vespa was out of the question. Nevertheless, I wanted to get some exercise done anyway after eating all the apple strudel the previous day, so reception gave me the keys for one of their cream bikes. It was easy to maneuver and it had a small basket at the front to hold my bag. Excellent!

I started the day as early as possible as I wanted to make the most out of it. My first stop was the Spanish Riding School as I had prebooked tickets for the 11am performance. My seat was very high up on the second rank, so to see the performance I had to stand up and lean over the balustrade. The performance itself was on for one hour and, to be honest, it was slightly underwhelming. I didn’t expect much, but at least to see a few riding techniques. It’s weird because I’m aware it’s not a circus. It’s Austrian tradition but then I kept questioning the whole procedure, as well as costs involved for breeding the horses and their “education” and what greater good it is meant to serve. It didn’t make much sense to me to dressage horses like that with war jumps and training them those unnatural movements. They do stress over and over again it’s not done for show or for-profit but I’m sure they do all of this purely for the entertainment of tourists as the performances are pricey. I spend too much time overthinking all of this and the more I saw, the more bizarre I found it.

Spanish Riding School performance hall vienna
spanish riding school vienna stables horse equipment
vienna spanish riding school stable

After the performance, I went on a guided tour around The Stables which was equally disappointing. The tour guide spoke rudimental English, barely provided any useful information and it felt like a big show off. Would I recommend it? It is certainly part of Austrian tradition and advertised as THE top attraction to see and do whilst you’re in Vienna but personally, I felt it was a huge tourist trap and time can certainly spend better in the city.

Anyway, it was time for the obligatory cake. The ideal place for today turned out to be Café Mozart opposite the Albertina. The traditional Austrian coffee house served mushroom risotto for lunch and nice cakes. NOW, I uncovered a little cake scandal here. Nearly all cafes in Vienna are served by the same cake provider. The menu is exactly the same in style in layout, as are the cakes. Café Hofburg, Café Mozart the Café at Schönbrunn all serve cake from Landtmann Patisserie. The only place that offered their own cakes during my time in Vienna, seemed to be Café Central.

To digest this little scandal I roamed the souvenir shops by the National Library and wasted a good amount of time looking at cheap Klimt replicas and porcelain Lippizaner sculptures. I then had the idea to freestyle cycle around and just see where my intuition would lead me. The Mariahilfer Strasse looked intriguing so I cycled it up with its leafy pedestrian, shops and very nice restaurants. The street is pretty long and I made a note to myself to check it out properly on my way back. I further ended up cycling past the West Station, some dodgy residential area and the technical school for applied science and just like that ended up at Castle Schönbrunn.

vienna city of horses

When I got there, it was already late afternoon so I was aware I wouldn’t be able to do a full tour and see the entire castle. I got myself a ticket for the Imperial Tour which covered half of the place and to be honest, it was enough. The rooms were very bland and underwhelming and my digital tour guide died a few times so it made no difference walking around from one room to another as they all looked the same. Bleak rooms with boring wallpaper and little furniture, there wasn’t much to see and there were hoards of tourists. The castle closed around 6pm, so I spend the rest of my time wandering around the huge garden area and walked up the hill to the Orangerie Gloria. From there you have fantastic views over the castle and Greater Vienna.

As planned, on my way back into town, I stopped at a super nice Burger place on Mariahilfer Strasse. I loved that street as it was a very long shopping street with interesting architecture, leafy trees along the way and an easy to cycle smooth road (mostly pedestrian). The burger place called Le Burger is a small chain with two restaurants across Vienna. The inside was an Instagrammer's dream full of swings and green lush plants. The burgers itself were delicious and the menu offered a wide range of flavour combinations. One quirky highlight was certainly their sauce bar which offered unusual flavours such as blueberry ketchup. It was a very laidback and interesting place and the barman even started a conversation with me and insisted to make me a bespoke mocktail.

le burger in vienna
le burger restaurant in vienna
le burger sauces stand in vienna

After dinner, I decided to end the day as I had ended the others: at the Prater. As on my first evening, I got a bit carried away so I found a path along the Danube river and really got the cycling bug. I must have ridden a good while when I lost sight of the fairground towers from the Prater and I was actually miles away from it. Once I arrived at its station I went a few rounds on the chain carrousel before the fairground closed for the day.

At 11pm, I cycled back through the warm summer night. Could have taken the route around the centre but decided to go straight through it and past all the attractions and sights and familiar streets for one last time. To end the day I enjoyed a homemade coconut and lavender lemonade at the hotel.

coconut lemonade served at hotel daniel in vienna

My first solo trip to Vienna was incredible and I would have never imagined I would have such a great time by myself. I had no restrictions and was completely free in doing whatever I wanted without anyone moaning or complaining. I was not tied to a schedule and found a great balance of relaxing and sightseeing. My personal highlights of my Vienna city break are:
  • Traditional Apple Strudel at Café Central
  • Fairground Prater
  • Art Collections, such as Castle Belvedere or Albertina
  • Central Vienna with its stunning buildings and architecture
  • Discovering the city by bike 
  • Prunksaal at the National Library
  • My meal at Le Burger
  • My stay at Hotel Daniel & its lovely staff
  • Enjoying seeing so many horses in one place

apple strudel served at cafe central in vienna

There you go, this was pretty much everything I got up to on my little trip to Vienna from last summer. Vienna has deeply impressed me with its laidback charm, sophisticated cultural flair, and delicious cakes. Looking forward to returning one day and exploring more sides of this diverse city.

Thanks so much for reading,
Carolin
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Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Exodus London

jonathan-chng-7_WyzplsaSE-London skyline from millennium bridge

Long-time, no post. I haven‘t been much active on here for a while, cause life got pretty much in the way and I had to sort out a few things. The major news though is the same:

I have left London. Four years of city life and six in total in the UK are officially over.

How do I feel about it? I don‘t see it as a permanent Good Bye... more like a break really.

An indefinite break for now, cause I have no idea what will happen in the future.

The last time I lived in London was in 2006 and it took me 10 years to move back for a second round. In those ten years, I was occupied with my academic career and never wasted a thought about moving back to London. Hell no, I had everything I wanted back in Germany. My career was on track, I had my own two-bedroom flat, owned a car and in general, I felt pretty happy and fulfilled with my life. London was never on my radar, ever.

Though there was always the feeling of wanting more - but I couldn't really point my finger to it what exactly "more" was. It happened in 2013, that I packed my stuff and moved to the UK. First to Bristol, then followed London in 2015.

And I was naive and overconfident enough to think, that I could easily walk into London with all my "amazing" achievements, the world would instantly love me and I could take off like a shooting star. Spoiler alert, none of it happened.

Professionally, I didn‘t get as far as I wanted to go. I don‘t want to share too many details here but an innocent incident at work defined the rest of my London time. London turned me into a version of myself, which I never knew existed and I could ever become. I was suddenly miserable, unhappy and listless. Dreams felt shattered and I lived from month to month without actually enjoying my life anymore. There were countless times I wanted to end my London life and throw in the towel, but then I pulled myself together and "got on with it".

However, just when I thought I was back on track, another WTF moment came along and I had to start all over again. One step forward, three steps backwards.

tom-parsons-the london underground

It was a very stressful time and no matter how hard I worked or tried to make it work, it was never good enough. I was never good enough.

It broke me, it broke my relationship and at the start of 2018 I was alone. I could have easily packed up my stuff and returned to Germany, but my competitive side didn‘t want to give up just yet. I wanted to prove something to myself. That I can make it work on my own. That I didn‘t need anyone in my life to be happy and I am very much capable of looking after myself.

Two years went by. Every day I found the energy to keep going, "make it work and never give up" kept me motivated - but in reality I ran against a wall over and over again without noticing. At some point I did notice....when I started to get a headache from it and severe panic attacks on the tube. Add in the catastrophic political situation, the low-quality jobs and the prospect of never progressing personally. It was a circle that I no longer wanted to be a part of anymore.

Earlier this year, I decided life needed to change. I applied for jobs in Germany and handed in my notice for my flat. None of my applications were successful but it just meant that Germany was not just yet the place to return to and settle in permanently. Other options needed to be explored of which there are plenty out there in the world!

I‘ve been reading a lot of self-improvement books and have been working on myself as a person. I realised, I can‘t continue my life in London as it was and I desperately needed a break from it. A break to regain focus, a break to recharge batteries, a break to tune in with me and get guidance again. In the end, I need to go where my energies are reciprocated and where I will find a job in my chosen field – experiential marketing.

The defining incident at work involved someone, I may have fallen for. Or fallen for a daydream fantasy, cause I don‘t know him that well. All I know is that I wanted to be in his life somehow the moment I met him. He left work in 2017 and I was too cautious to reach out because of the drama stirred at work. He was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. So I got on with my life, went on solo trips, met up with friends, spend hours at the gallery, applied for new jobs, worked out, went out to nice restaurants, took a few classes to get certificates, worked on myself, read lots of books, even tried to forget about him with another guy…. But all of that only gave temporary distraction. He was always on my mind, sooner or later. It took me two and a half years to build up enough courage to finally contact him. We even met up, which was probably one of the best lunch breaks I have ever had in my life – only to run into a dead-end again and hit another wall.

david-marcu-summer evening in london soho

My final days in London were pretty emotional, not gonna lie here. Accepting the rejection and dissapointments of the past and admitting I had failed were a hard pill to swallow. Leaving close friends behind because life in London came to an end was also not easy to cope with. I felt overwhelmed, unstable and cried most of the time. I wanted my expat life in London so badly to work out for me and it was tough leaving something behind which I had built up and invested in emotionally for six years.

I organised my move to Germany, dismissed my flat, visited a few places which I really wanted to see before leaving, met up with my friends for a final time (for now) and spend the evenings crying together. I'm not a huge fuss maker and refused a proper leaving party, cause ideally, this is just a break and not the end. My intentions are to return to London one day once the political situation is more relaxed and I have explored other options in life. There is so much more out there, things to learn, cultures to explore and lifestyles to adopt that I'm ready for something else.

I met up with only a few people, the few gems which I truly care about and which have made my life in London a great experience and journey together. And I was angry with myself that I messed it up with him...

Long story short, I didn‘t get the job, I didn‘t get the guy and now it‘s reset button time. The only thing London did give me though, were true friends and friendships which will last for a lifetime. No matter what will happen, I know there are people who care about me and would love to have me back in London - which is a nice, reassuring feeling that I didn't fail at one thing during my time there.

For now, I‘ve moved home to my parents for a bit to regain focus and get grounded again. I‘m slowly starting to feel better and „myself“ again. Taking the time out to focus and work on myself is something which I need and it will do me good to explore other options in life than the London grind. Next week, I'm going to Spain to do the final 100km of the Pilgrimage camino - an experience I've been wanting to do for a while. I'm also looking at continuning my expat life but this time on a bigger scale. Also my Australia plans from 2017 are long overdue so I'm looking at the moment how to best organise the trip. Ideally I can get a permanent job but if it is not happening for the New Year I can always have the option of travelling for a bit.

I know my potential and what I'm capable of and London just wasn‘t the right place for me. Just because London didn't work out doesn't mean somewhere else won't. The life lessons I‘ve learned are invaluable and who knows maybe the experience in London prepared me for something even bigger and better?!?
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