Going home from another home

They say when you move abroad you are either running from or running to something. In my case, moving to San Francisco meant I was sprinting towards the life that I thought I should have had all along and I couldn’t wait to prove myself in this new world that I had chosen for myself. And life has been treating me well, better than I had hoped it would and better than I sometimes felt I deserved.  Now, I will be going home for Christmas. By the time my plane touches down in Hamburg, Germany, by the time I grab my luggage and fall into the arms of my (probably bawling) mother, I will have been gone an accumulated total of 483 days. And my God, am I ridiculously excited to go back. I have been watching Love Actually on repeat because both the first and the final scene remind me of how I will feel at the airport. I have been humming Christmas songs in my head since my boss approved my vacation request two months ago. I have moments of jumping up and down in my room when I’m alone, because that’s just how excited I am to see my parents, my brothers and my closest friends, to sleep in my old room, to eat my parents’ home-cooked meals, to wander across Christmas Markets and tour the cities I love.

CHRISTMAS EXODUS GETS UNDERWAY AT HEATHROW HEATHROW READIES FOR

And then there is a growing worry. Because, by going back, it might just hit me how long exactly I had been gone. I mean, of course there are the obvious measurements of time. I was 21 when I left and 23 when I come home. I missed my brother’s High School graduation and my other brother’s Confirmation. They missed my grad school commencement. I missed my brother moving out and I couldn’t visit him in the hospital on any of the multiple occasions he was brought in with an epileptic attack. They couldn’t help me when I lost my wallet with all my cards in it or when I hurt my foot so badly in the Grand Canyon that I couldn’t walk for two weeks. And while we were there for each other through phone and Internet, I’ve come to learn that distance is a good buffer. It is a hella good painkiller, too. And you grow comfortable being away.

Because, eventually, the distance gets easier to manage. No, I take that back. The distance is something we start to accept as the inevitable, as something we opted in on when we chose to live the life we want. The time zones and phone calls and missing one another are things to which we can adjust and be okay with, which we sometimes complain about but, at the end of the day, look past it.

So, I have become comfortable with being that one family member living at the other end of the world. Because, without this level of detachment, I would constantly feel bad for choosing here over there. For deciding that my hometown is simply too small for all the dreams I have in my head. For not following in my parents footsteps. At. All. Being the “gone one” has started to feel like not such a bad price to pay. But now that my flights are booked, it keeps hitting me exactly how much I’ve been missing all these people that have known me for more than just 483 days and I want to go back to what I’m used to and give them what they expect to get. Pre-San Francisco Me.

But how do we come home to a place that must inevitably have changed while we were gone? Going home from another home is a weird feeling, because people expect you to be the person you were when you left, and that’s impossible. And, vice versa, you expect things to be exactly the same as when you left, and that’s impossible, too.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be” (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Most of all though, I just really want Christmas to come!

Cheers,

Ari

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Everyone Else’s Story

The following are aimless philosophical ramblings. No actual point is being made.

That being said: do you ever wonder about everyone else’s story?

I’m writing this on a semi-crowded train taking me from a Bavarian town straight to my new home in the North of Germany. Six and a half hours between the place where I taught a seminar and the place I will call home, forty square meters in beautiful Hamburg, shared with the man I love and (for the time being) quite a lot of cardboard boxes.

I’m twenty-four and I’m in love – with this guy, with a city I’ve only ever visited for weekends, with the steady movement of the train and with this moment in my life.

I can’t help but wonder: what’s everyone else’s story? If you could measure the emotion in this train car, what would you find? At first glance, most of the people surrounding me look bored. But would boredom really be the prevailing feeling you’d find? I doubt it. I’m sure I look bored to those around me, sitting cross-legged in a reclined window seat, typing away on my laptop. Maybe I am a little, intermittently. But much more than that, I am excited, ecstatic, happy, nervous, joyful and a little baffled at how amazing this sequence of events has been.

passengers on train by OTFO on Flickr

passengers on a train (by OFTO on Flickr)

So what about the guy across the aisle with the band-aid on this right thumb, swiping backwards, forwards, up and down on his cell phone? He’s dressed casually, has a small suitcase with him, slight frown on his face. Looks like he’s reading something – sometimes he’ll use two fingers to zoom in on the screen. He looks bored, too. But what if he’s just distracting himself? It’s a Monday evening, so maybe he’s heading home from a long weekend that he spent in the city his long-distance girlfriend lives in. Or boyfriend, actually, maybe. No, probably girlfriend. In that case, would he be a bit sad, maybe, to have to leave? They might have had a fight and he’s somewhere between relief and frustration. They might have gotten engaged, and he’s still trying to process the fact that she said yes. It might have been a Monday work trip, though, too. He might just be tired. Nothing much may be happening in his life right now – or everything.

I won’t know – and I won’t know what brought that couple sharing a newspaper, or the woman with the bright yellow book, on this particular train. Neither will they ever know just how excited I am. That I’m moving, right now, and for the first time in years, moving somewhere I plan on staying indefinitely. I don’t know if they’d care, either. I’d find it interesting, right now, to know what they’re up to – but it wouldn’t touch my life beyond tonight, so in the end, it will not matter to me.

And still, sitting here and letting my eyes wander around the train car, I can’t help but marvel at the unknown stories, the biographies, the tragedies and comedies around me that I will never know. The stories behind these random faces. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around just how MUCH is going on in a single train car, let alone the whole world, at any given point in time. Isn’t that just the most amazing thing to think about?

Hidden Gems: Stairway to Heaven

Being out and about in SF will so totally be worth it! It will also so totally involve climbing, hiking, sweating and exercising. But, thanks to the many elevated lookout points throughout the city, you probably won’t know where to turn to first. The views will be worth it and, let’s face it, my thighs thanked me too 😉

Today, I grabbed my camera and hopped onto the 28 Bus towards 16th and Morega (get off on 19th and Morega). Searching for the Mosaic Stairs I had seen on Pinterest before, I explored a little more of the Sunset District and was not disappointed. Not only did I find the stairs but, to my surprise, they led up to an elevated little hill that locals call Turtle Hill. It’s real name, Grand View Park, does the scenery more justice though. Walk along the sandy trail and gaze at Ocean Beach to your left, Golden Gate Bridge ahead of you and the downtown area as well as Twin Peaks to your right.

Of course, as with many landmarks in the city, make sure to catch a clear day. If you can. May the odds be ever in your favor….

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Mosaic Stairs @16th Ave between Morega and Noriega

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The ascent already offers promising outlooks…

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The breakers at Ocean Beach, the Pacific side of SF

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Twin Peaks (picture) is said to offer the best panorama over the city but I think Turtle Hill is a main competitor

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Golden Gate Park, Fort Mason, Ingleside, Golden Gate Park and Sunset District

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But really, the “park” is more like a forest, actually.

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California Poppy- do not plug!!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “I lost my head in San Francisco, waiting for the fog to roll out…”

 

California Dreaming: Yosemite National Park

It’s been a while since I last gave tips for awesome trips through California. Pardon me, I was a little busy with school. But to make up for it, I am hereby presenting you amazing photos of Yosemite National Park!! Although San Francisco offers a great variety of outdoor activities, nothing beats the grande impressions of wild nature that are just a short 4-hour-drive away! I highly recommend taking a 3-5-long trip there if you have time at all to spare. It will be so worth it!

DSC_2447_1Cooks Meadow Yosemite Falls, close to the Park Entrance

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Tunnel View

 

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View of Nevada Falls from the Vernal Falls Plateau

 

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You don’t get that sort of night sky in a big city, enjoy!!

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Vernal Falls

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Are your lunch buddies ever that cute?

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Watch after the little ones!

 

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One day we hiked in a T-Shirt, the next day we woke up to this!

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Grizzly Giant, with roots as big as an average tree!

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A Perfect Day In California

About three weeks ago, I met someone really awesome in a bar and we started going out. First date, second date, third date, and by now we are not counting dates but shared memories. It’s going really good and I’ve realized that our dates tend to be more like all-day adventures, each and everyone so perfect that both of us think it can’t get better- only it does. On the next date.  Anyways, I figured I’d share some of these days with you. Just in case you ever make it to SF and try to make every minute count. Or have a real romantic date. After all, San Francisco did get elected the most romantic city in the US.

1 Perfect Day in California á la Ariane:

  • 1 Car
  • 1 fully charged Camera
  • Water
  • Sun screen
  • Food
  • A map or iPhone for directions

We rented a car with AVIS and were lucky enough to get a really cool all-American car on discount- the Dodge Challenger. We named him Charlie. Now, I’m not too familiar with car types but this one just screamed road trip and we did him justice, I believe. So, here goes the perfect route for a perfect one-day-roadtrip:

1. Start off at Lombard Street
If you rent a car, you might as well go all out and do one of the most touristy things that SF has to offer: curvy Lombard Street. If you go early in the morning, you will barely have any cars blocking your ride down. Be prepared for some proper rollercoaster action.

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2. Cross Golden Gate Bridge
No matter how the weather will be that day, in the morning it is very likely to be foggy. Embrace it though, the bridge looks fascinatingly mystical when half covered in the thick grey fog layer. Toll is $6 one-way. For some reason however, we didn’t need to pay so bare that in mind. You might be lucky.

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3. US- 101 towards Sonoma
You will not be disappointed. After about half an hour you start passing the first vineyards and wineries, it gets hilly and the views are amazing. Find the River Road towards Guerneville and after about half an hour you should see a small parking lot to your left. Do park and stroll down to Russian River. It will be a nice break.

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4. Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve
Continue on River Road until you come to the Armstrong Woods Road, merge onto that. Drive up to the Redwoods Reserve. It will cost you $8 to spend the day, there are a lot of hiking trails that lead you miles and miles into nature. Or, you can decide to drive up a really steep curvy road instead, which of course we did. I spent that part of the journey burying my head into my scarf. The Redwoods are amazing though and if you are all for the view, do go for the drive-up.

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5. Have a stop in Gueraville
It’s a really cute town with good diners, gas stations, banks and Safeway. Do try the Ice-Cream at Flavors Unlimited. They let you choose from an unlimited number of toppings, which get blended into vanilla and chocolate soft swirl making it taste like cheesecake, mint and white chocolate at the same time. Energized? Great, back on to the road!

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6. Blind Beach
Turn onto Hwy 116 W/CA-116 W/River Rd until you reach Jenner Pond/ Blind Beach. I mean, it’s amazing really. My favorite stop of the day. One minute you stare out of the window admiring the hills and forests and next thing you know you look ahead and BOOM. The ocean. In all its beauty. Take a break and climb up that hill about half a mile away from the parking lot. Breath and be overwhelmed by the majestic ocean, the clean air and the incredible feeling of freedom.

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7. Point Reyes
Continue on the CA-1 N/Coast Hwy to Marin. Follow the signs directing you to SF. Once in Point Reyes Fort, search for the Sir Francis Drake Road and follow that on. Warning- if you wanna make it to the Lighthouse, be aware that it’s a good half an hour drive crossing the peninsula. The road is not in the best condition and the land stretches further than we had expected. But, as with anything along the Pacific Highway, the views make up for it by far. It is a national park though, so technically, it is currently closed. We did see a lot of cars generously ignoring the govt shutdown sign though. As with many things in that regard, zero f***s were given.

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8. Stinson Beach
Turn onto Panoramic Highway and follow until you hit Muir Woods Road, then continue on that one. If you have time, stop in one of the many cute towns you will see on your way. Like Bodega Bay, that just looked incredibly romantic and seemed to have a great selection of seafood restaurants and beach cafés. Other than that, embrace the fact that you are on the Panoramic Highway (which is named like that for a reason…), wind down the window and blast Let Her Go by Passenger. Or California Dreaming. Or On Top Of The World. Once at Stinson Beach, try to find some sand dollars. They’re big on petrified ones there too! Definitely worth a walk.

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9. Back home
The city is calling, so you wanna swing back. Preferably, in time for you to drop of your car at your rental agency. We failed and could only avoid being charged high late-fees by driving to the SFO airport to drop Charlie off there. Oh well. Shit happens. We miss you Charlie!!!!

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Return back home and realize that you have gotten a glimpse of paradise. California is intensely beautiful and yesterday I saw landscapes that dreams are made of. I know that sounds super cheesy but I did not expect to be confronted with so many breathtaking spots. Do go people, do go!

Cheers and hit the road,

Ari

First Week in SF- Lessons Learned

My first week in San Francisco is almost over and I feel like a sponge that is soaking up all the new things, the interesting lessons learned and the first impressions. So, let me share some with you:

1.) Learn how to convert miles into kilometers. “Oh, 2 miles to the nearest supermarket, that’s walking distance!” shall remain a one-time-only misadventure.

2.) Bank accounts- there is a checking and a saving account and you have to transfer your money to one of them and in-between each other. Should have probably done my research before so that I could have avoided the slightly awkward: “Oh no, I don’t wanna open two accounts, I just want one. One account!”
“Yes Miss, but do you wanna place the deposit on your checking or your savings account for now?”
“I want a general account, a veery basic account and just one of them, Just.ONE”

3.) .. Bank employees are incredibly patient. And really lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I went home and googled “Can you add your banker on Facebook?” Turns out- you can. Depends a little on the moral guidelines of the banks though.

4.) The nearest grocery store is called “Trader Joes”, which I guess is the healthier mini-version of a Walmart? They don’t really have any brands I know, but they try to make up by selling EVERYTHING organic, vegan and gluten-free. Gluten-free brownie mix, vegan almond butter… Luckily, I found something called Safeway nearby. It might still be a 20-minute-walk, but it is entirely possible to buy ice-cream and carry it home without it melting. I know because that was the first thing I tried, of course. Currently building an ice-cream paradise in our freezer as we speak.

5.) I get why people stereotype East Coasters as colder and more distant..it’s hard to compete against the warmth and enthusiasm of the folks from around here. Everybody is SO happy to meet me and my stories about Germany are so VERY insightful and oh, didn’t I just have the GREATEST of experiences today.

6.) Nothing beats warm blueberry bagels. Or warm blueberry bagels with ham! Although, my housemate seems to think that’s weird.

7.) Californian sun….wow. Should not have underestimated that. I sat outside to read and after ten minutes I was pretty  sunburned. I really wonder whether “tanned” will just be my normal skin color from now on. WHAT IS THIS LIFE?!?!

8.) Public transportation- well. First of, if you are looking for the buttons to press for stop requests….try the chords dangling alongside the windows and don’t get discouraged that they look like exposed electrodes. Secondly, .. no. I will stay open minded and trust that public transport is actually great!

9.) Homelessness seems to be a reocurring phenomenon around here. Even when walking through an area that looks like New York’s Wall Street, there are so many streets populated by homeless people.

10.) It’s super easy to get into chit-chats with people but it’s really tricky to differ between solid promises and vague suggestions. If someone you just met says “Oh, we should totally spend a day in the park”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are automatically going through their mental schedule to make time for you and set a date. Had to learn that the hard way..

11.) Dress in layers. I heard of the microclimate but I only really believed it when I left my neighborhood in NoFo valley (aka notorious fog valley) to go downtown, only to come out of the subway and find a paradise of burning heat, light-blue skies and no fog in sight. Also, beaches here in San Francisco are not exactly like you see them in California movies. I mean, they are great. But don’t expect palm trees. Or hot lifeguards. Or temperatures warm enough to actually go swimming. I might have to save up for a trip to LA soon. Or SAN DIEGO!!!

12.) Pandora. Oooooh Pandora Free Radio Station. You know me so well. We’ll be best friends I’m sure! Quite fittingly, my first ever Pandora station is titled “Unpacking”

13.) UNBLOCKED YOUTUBE VIDEOS!!! I mean, people here don’t have health insurance or social securities or paid vacation but they can LITERALLY watch ANY video they want on YouTube. In HD. Over and over again.

14.) Kale. Can we talk about Kale for a moment? Kale CHIPS. Kale smoothies. Kale T-shirts. I translated that word to German the other day and, what do you know.. it’s been a thing in Germany for centuries. But don’t you dare saying that out loud around here. According to West Coasters, they just discovered it, so of course it has actually JUST become the “latest graze”.

15.) Eeerm.. Instagram. It’s an actual thing. People instagram their foods and use hashtags and take selfies all the time. I might sign up for an account, just to see what all the fuzz is about. Maybe.

So, that was my first week for you and there’s yet more to come. I really really like SF so far and feel super comfortable in my rented place and with the people (and the dog) I live with. So far, so good- I’ll keep you guys posted 🙂

Cheers and go to the West Coast soon!

Ari

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guess who’s going to San Francisco today?

People, can you take a moment and cross your fingers for my dear long-distance-roommate, who is currently either on a plane to London, somewhere in the airport in London, or even already on a plane to Los Angeles?

She’s a bit worried that things are going to go wrong. Or, what am I saying, she’s freaking out about everything.

I’m sure everything will be just fine and you’ll hear soon from her about how wonderful and absolutely epic San Francisco is, but in the meantime, it can’t hurt to send her some good thoughts and wishes, right?

Good luck, Ari, and keep us posted!!