Travel | East Frisian Tea Culture

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

In addition to beach combing and visiting the sauna, during my visit to Langeoog last month I also learned that Ostfriesland has the largest consumption of tea per person, worldwide — 300 liters per person, per year!  And it’s not just about consuming tea, but there’s also a very special art and ritual associated with drinking tea in East Frisia.  Needless to say, I was very happy to see that the off-season deal I booked at the Hotel Norderrif also included a welcome tea by the fireplace.

East Frisian tea itself consists of mostly Assam leaves — which makes for a strong, dark tea — brewed with soft, filtered water.  The tea is best sipped out of delicate porcelain cups in which you place a piece of white or brown rock sugar (known as Kluntje) before pouring the tea.

You then use a small spoon to pour in a bit of cream — either towards the edge of the cup, or counterclockwise, in order to ensure a beautiful milky cloud of cream. Here’s something very important: There’s no stirring allowed!  The East Frisians instead enjoy the different flavors that come first from the strong tea, then from the cream, and finally from the sugar that’s melted at the bottom of the cup.

Tea time is typically at 3pm, but it’s not unheard of to have a mid-morning tea time and another in the evening.  Guests are also frequently greeted with a pot of tea, no matter the time of their arrival.  And in case you find yourself a guest of East Frisian hosts, remember that drinking fewer than three cups of tea is often considered impolite!

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: East Frisian Tea Culture | No Apathy Allowed

As most of you know, I’m much more of a coffee drinker — a true Seattleite, through and through!  Even so, I loved the ritual associated with drinking tea on Langeoog.  I really enjoyed my late afternoon tea, curled up with my Kindle, and staring out the window at the blustery weather.  Just perfect.

Coffee or tea?  Have you ever tried the East Frisian art of drinking tea?

For more information on the Ostfriesische Teekultur, these are great articles:

Holidays | Advent Decorating

Although I’ve been visiting Christmas markets like a champ, I’ve been a bit behind on my holiday decorating.  Truth be told, I have no intent of buying a tree this year, but I do love a good advent wreath. There’s just something special about sprigs of pine and lighting candles to mark the passing weeks.

So even though it’s almost time to light the third candle, I couldn’t resist putting one together for this season.  I bought pine branches at the market, picked up some candles, and combined them with the Christmas tree ornaments I’ve gathered over the years — both as gifts and as souvenirs.  As candle holders, I’m using two old glass honey jars and two glass bowls.  Everything is arranged on top of a colorful tray from Mexico.  I somehow love the eclectic and less traditional feeling.   All the pine makes everything smell so heavenly too.

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

I also pulled together a few special ornaments and paired them with some pine to be displayed on the windowsill.  I just love my Santa Claus I picked up at one of the local Christmas markets.  Plus, the porcelain bulb with gold stars is a souvenir from my time in Norway, and the glittery bulb with painted flowers was a gift from my parents during their recent visit.

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

Holidays: Advent Decorating | No Apathy Allowed

And voila!  Christmas, I’m finally ready for you. What are your favorite ways to decorate for the holidays?

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Lüneburg’s Christmas Markets

Lüneburg's Christmas Markets | No Apathy Allowed

It’s no secret that Christmas markets are one of my favorite things about the winter months here in Deutschland.  So when my folks came to visit last week, I was more than happy to show them around and use the opportunity to discover new markets. A Hanseatic city like Bremen and Hamburg, Lüneburg has long been on my list of places to visit in Germany.  A small city of 72,000 residents, the old town is made up of gorgeous buildings that survived WWII and date all the way back to the 16th century.  I found Lüneburg completely charming  and she definitely won our hearts!

Arriving by regional train, our walk into the Altstadt took only a few minutes, and we started our visit at the Weihnachtsmarkt in the courtyard of Café NEWS on Schröderstraße.   Billed as Germany’s “smallest and most romantic” Christmas market, we drank our first mugs of Glühwein  in the cozy passageway decorated with trees and lights.  Open until December 28th (closed on the 25th-26th), Monday-Friday after 2pm, Saturday-Sunday after 11am.

We then made our way to the Weihnachtsmarkt am Rathaus, where the gorgeous city hall made for a very picturesque backdrop.  The market was smaller than I expected, but completely lovely.  We circled through the market a number of times and enjoyed the changing scenery as the sun went down and the Christmas lights became brighter.  Open until December 23rd, Monday-Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 11am-8pm.

Finally, we visited the Weihnachtsmarkt bei der St. Johannis- Kirche.  In the courtyard in front of the church — which we toured earlier in the afternoon — they’ve created a little wonderland with a large wooden hut offering Glühwein and several smaller ones offering Wurst, Schmalzkuchen, Feuerzangenbowle, and other goodies.  We branched out a bit and tried the Glühwein made with white wine – although we enjoyed it, the general consensus was that the traditional red mulled wine was still our favorite.  From here, we walked back to the train station to catch our train home to Bremen.  Open daily until December 23rd, 11am-9pm.

Weihnachtsmarkt am Rathaus: Lüneburg's Christmas Markets | No Apathy Allowed

Weihnachtsmarkt am Rathaus: Lüneburg's Christmas Markets | No Apathy Allowed

Weihnachtsmarkt am Rathaus: Lüneburg's Christmas Markets | No Apathy Allowed

Weihnachtsmarkt am Rathaus: Lüneburg's Christmas Markets | No Apathy Allowed

Weihnachtsmarkt bei der St. Johannis- Kirche: Lüneburg's Christmas Markets | No Apathy Allowed

Overall, we had a really wonderful time during our visit of Lüneburg’s Christmas markets.  The old town is definitely small enough to wander through on foot, the architecture is gorgeous and all lit up for Christmas, and we were able to linger and really explore every market we visited.   The whole time I kept asking myself why I had never been to to Lüneburg before!

Have you visited Lüneburg?  What are your favorite thing to see and do there?

Christmas Market Statistics 2014:

  • Mugs of Glühwein:  3+
  • Bag of Schmalzkuchen: 2
  • Cost of fines for not traveling with the proper tickets: 40 Euros

Travel | Five Days on Langeoog

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

As I headed into the last couple of months of writing my dissertation, I started planning a short vacation as a reward  for finishing.  I dreamed of somewhere beautiful and relaxing, but didn’t have the energy for elaborate organization and planning.  Given Bremen’s proximity to Germany’s North Sea coast, it wasn’t long before I was looking into the East Frisian islands.  I found a great off-season deal at a chic hotel with a swimming pool and sauna on Langeoog and booked myself immediately for a four-night stay.

Let me tell you, it was just what I needed.  I walked along the beach, drank tea, and swam in the pool every single day.  The sauna was so amazing that I promised myself to finally find a good one in Bremen for the upcoming winter.  In the evenings, I snuggled into my cozy room and read to my heart’s content (ok, on Sunday evening I watched Tatort too).  One chilly afternoon I went on a guided tour of the mudflats (Wattenmeer) — slogging through mud and muck and learning about the birds, shell fish, and worms that inhabit the flats.

Although the temperatures didn’t lend themselves to swimming in the sea, I found November (during the week) to be the perfect time to visit.  The beaches were nearly empty, the restaurants always had free tables, and the tourist activities were very personalized.  The temperatures hovered around 4-10 degrees Celsius (40-50 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout my stay, so I was happy to have my hiking boots to keep my feet dry and warm clothing to protect myself from the wind!

I would have loved to have extended my visit, but even those five days were perfect for unwinding.  After the photos below (more here), I share a few details with you about the island, its activities, and how you can travel there…

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Five Days on Langeoog | No Apathy Allowed

About Langeoog

There are 1,700 residents on the island, plus about 800 visitors during my trip in the off-season, lending to a very peaceful atmosphere.  In the summer, though, the place is hopping and Langeoog sees thousands of visitors every day.  There is a small village that boasts nearly all of Langeoog’s hotels, restaurants, and shops.  Otherwise, the island is mostly made up of beaches, dunes, and tidal flats.

In 1949, the island was officially recognized by the government as a Nordseeheilbad — in other words, as an island in the North Sea where you can “take a cure” in the special sea climate.  If your doctor deems it medically necessary to take a cure, it can be covered by statutory health insurance here in Germany!  It also means you pay a “cure tax” of a few euros for each day you spend on the island.

Another plus in my book is that the island is car free.   Everyone gets around by foot and bicycle.  Many hotels offer bicycles for their guests, plus there are several rental shops where you can rent a bike for the day, a few days, or even a week.

Also important to know is that while the island supports itself through tourism, it primarily caters to German tourists.  Meaning, you’ll able to take greater advantage of what Langeoog has to offer if you or your travel partners have at least some knowledge of German.

What to do on Langeoog

In addition to the 14 kilometers of beach, the island provides marked paths of varying lengths (ranging from five to 20 kilometers) for the enjoyment of Nordic walkers and runners.  Even in the off-season, there are any number of organized activities for visitors throughout the week, ranging from: tours of the mudflats, sunset cocktails at the top of the iconic water tower, aqua fitness classes, and even a running group.  The offerings are posted on public bulletin boards throughout the village and can often be booked at the Rathaus/Info Center.

Getting There

You reach Langeoog using the ferry departing from Bensersiel on Germany’s mainland, which is where you leave your car if you’ve driven there.  If you prefer to travel with public transportation, there are a number of options.  On my way to Langeoog, I took a regional train to Norden and then caught a bus which brought me directly to the Bensersiel ferry terminal.  On my way back, I took a bus from Bensersiel to the Esens train station and caught a series of regional trains back to Bremen.  I found it super practical to travel there with the Deutsche Bahn, since I could book my ticket all the way to Langeoog and it rolled the train, bus, and ferry costs into one price and sorted out the connections for me.  Once you reach the ferry terminal, you exchange your Deutsche Bahn ticket for the Langeoog visitor card, which is your pass on the island.

There are also some private bus companies traveling directly between Bremen and the Bensersiel ferry terminal, but their travel times are limited and didn’t work with my plans.  There’s a small airport on the island too, offering daily flights in the months of April to September.

Have you visited Langeoog?  Any tips you can offer?  I’m already plotting my return vacation on Langeoog for next fall!

* This post was not sponsored in any way by the island of Langeoog.  My vacation was just perfect and I wanted to share it with you! *

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What I’ve Learned

Dissertation

Well, I’m done.  This last half-a-year I have been completely consumed with bringing my doctoral dissertation to a close.  And now it’s finished.  It’s a very surreal feeling to have four years of work come to a close — reading, writing, learning, analyzing, and presenting.  The defense will come in a few months, but the hardest part is over.  My heart was pounding in my chest as I printed out the final version this week.  To finally see all 300 pages take physical form was both nerve wracking and awe inspiring.

I will walk away from these four years with both a degree and a certain level of “expertise” on one very specific topic, but it feels so much bigger than that.

This whole experience has been extremely humbling.  I thought learning German was the most humbling thing I’d ever do, but, oh,  was I wrong.  Constantly putting your ideas and work out on the line for criticism is no easy task, but that is at the heart of research.  It’s not about developing your ideas in a vacuum and then hiding them away somewhere.  You have to send your work out into the world, talk about your ideas, incorporate critique, improve your work, and then do it all over again. And again. And again.  That’s how we learn, and that’s how science progresses.  But man, is it painful sometimes.

Very related to that was letting go of my perfectionism. Perfection really is the enemy of the good, and definitely an enemy of a finished dissertation.  As every doctoral student has heard at one point or another: a good dissertation is a finished dissertation.  It shouldn’t be the culmination of a lifetime of work, but rather just the starting point for a lifetime of research.  But that’s so hard to see when you’re in the middle of it all.  I really thought I would be able to complete my PhD in three years, but I clearly had no idea what I was getting into.

Especially as someone who is older and has had a less traditional academic path, there’s a huge incentive to bring this phase to a close and move on to the next one.  My desire to be able to contribute again to something larger than myself and my own research aims has become overwhelming as of late.  No doubt, it was the right time to let go of the perfect and aim for the finished.

And now what?  Well, in the very immediate future, I’ll be taking a few vacation days on the North Sea.  I want nothing more than just to relax, walk along the ocean shores, warm myself up in the sauna, read a book, and drink some East Frisian tea.  Everything else will just have to wait…

Books | Fall Reading 2014

How can it be autumn already?  The leaves are turning beautiful colors and falling to the ground, but it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees yesterday.  The first day of November!  In Germany!  It’s like some kind of crazy time warp, isn’t it?  Personally, I was just getting used to summer.  But indeed, time is marching on.  I haven’t felt like I’ve had a lot of time for reading lately, but apparently I’ve blazed my way through a few books that are definitely worth sharing…

Long-Walk-to-Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom

I can’t put my finger on what exactly inspired me to read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.   It was more like a general dissatisfaction at having everything I knew about Mandela being based on popular media and imagery.  I wanted to get a taste of the complexities of Mandela’s life and ideals, in his own words.

He wrote Long Walk to Freedom twenty years ago, so it does not cover too much of the time between his release from prison and his death in 2013.  Instead, it focuses on Mandela’s childhood and young adulthood, his early days as a lawyer in Johannesburg,  his increasing involvement with the African National Congress in the campaign against oppression, and his 27-year long imprisonment.

Mandela’s attention to detail in this autobiography is incredible.  I came away with a strong sense of the inner workings of the ANC and a profound respect for the commitment of those in the anti-apartheid movement.  It’s completely mind-blowing the extremes to which the South African government went in order to repress the overwhelming majority of its population.  That Mandela and his colleagues continued this struggle even within prison is impressive.

It was also clear from his writings that he was deeply conflicted about the sacrifices his family had to make for him to be a freedom fighter.  Although it pained him, he acknowledged that it was not possible for him to be both the “father of the nation” and a real father to his own children.  For Mandela, the greater good of freeing South Africa from oppression was worth the sacrifice.  In any case, it was a fascinating peek into Mandela’s mind and at South African history.

The-Giver

The Giver

I decided to read The Giver after being deeply disappointed with the Hollywood version I saw during a surprise sneak preview hosted by my local cinema.  I knew the book was much loved and the winner of many awards for children’s and young adult fiction, so I was hopeful that the story would be much more compelling in novel form.  Thankfully, where the movie fell flat, the novel was rich in detail and nuance.

The story centers around a dystopian community that promotes “sameness” in order to avoid the pain and conflict that comes with diversity.  But in doing so they also deprive themselves of love and joy.   Needing at least one individual in the community to carry the wisdom from the world prior to sameness, Jonas — an adolescent boy — is chosen to be the receiver of all memories.   The descriptions of the community and of the dilemmas Jonas faces with his new knowledge are fascinating.

But I have to admit that I was disappointed with the ending.  It was vague and unsatisfying.  It’s just the first book in a series of four, but I had still expected the story to be able to stand alone.  But since it’s so short, it’s still a valuable read, especially from an adult perspective.

Wild-Cheryl-Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I’ve had Wild recommended to me several times, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.  It’s a memoir of Strayed’s 1,100-mile solo hike of the Pacific Coast Trail during a particularly turbulent time in her life.  Recovering from the sudden death of her mother to cancer, Strayed’s life unravels at the seams.  As a way of finding herself again, she embarks on this very ambitious journey with shockingly little  preparation or experience.  Strayed suffers from her rookie mistakes and learns very painful lessons, but always manages to keep on putting one foot in front of the other.  Along the way she manages to make peace with herself and let her mother’s spirit cross over to the other side.

Altogether, Strayed told her story beautifully.  After the somewhat stilted prose of a Long Walk to Freedom, it was a pleasure to revel in Strayed’s gorgeous imagery.  But as someone who loves being over prepared for everything in life, I found her lack of preparation for the PCT maddening and downright dangerous.  But it’s authentic and part of her story.  I think anyone who has undertaken such an enormous physical challenge as Strayed did, will identify with the ways in which it leaves you a changed person.  And maybe it will inspire a few more people to shake up their lives and see where the trail leads them.

What should I read next?  I have Being Mortal, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and Hard Choices at the top of my list.  What have been your favorites lately? 

Race Report | Bremen Half Marathon

Bremen Half Marathon Race Report | No Apathy Allowed

I had meant to get this race report up a little sooner, but I came down with a cold just a couple days after the race and it sucked up all my spare energy.  But better late than never!

Towards the end of this particular training cycle, I had noticed that my training runs were becoming more solid and that I was consistently reaching faster paces than I ever had before.  I knew I was capable of running a personal best during this race.  But given that it’s a very stressful time at the moment with my dissertation, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself in case it didn’t happen.

However, I did try something new. I normally like to run a conservative first half and then negative split the second half of a race. But this time I wanted to put everything out there at the beginning of the race. To have more faith in my training and my abilities and to leave no room for doubt. Instead of letting myself get freaked out by the paces on my watch, I wanted my legs to simply show me what they could do.

Bremen Half Marathon route | No Apathy Allowed
Bremen Half Marathon route

And that they did. I was actually calmer than I have been at other races. I was happy to be racing on home turf and wanted to enjoy myself as much as possible. The first 5K went by in a flash. Maybe a bit faster than would be wise, but I felt good and my breathing was steady, so I just went with it.

By around the 10K mark, I was really feeling the midday sun. The temperatures were warm for the beginning of October and the race hadn’t started until 11:30am. I developed some really painful side stitches around this point and slowed my pace a bit.  I focused on my breathing and was able to run through them.  I  was at least 2 minutes under my goal time and knew I had some room to slow down if I needed it.

The next few miles weren’t my favorite because it already hurt and I knew I had about another 10K still to go.  But I focused on each kilometer separately.  Usually I’ve always kept my paces calculated in miles, but I may have crossed over to kilometers in this race. Mentally, it was just so much easier to handle maintaining 6:00 per kilometer than 9:40 per mile!

Once I hit 15K, I focused on just staying at my goal pace. It was more of a struggle than at the beginning, but I never doubted that I could.  I knew it was just a matter of gritting my teeth and pushing through it.  The crowds were also fantastic the whole way and gave me a real energy boost!  Plus I had the jaunt through the Werder Bremen football stadium to look forward to, and friends lined up at different points to cheer me on in the last kilometers.

Seeing familiar faces really kept me going strong.  I was so exhausted but knew I couldn’t give up.  Around 19K, I realized that if I pushed it a bit, I could finish under 2:05, which was my secret goal for the race (so secret that I may not have even admitted it to myself). So I gave it all I had. I was ecstatic and exhausted when I crossed the finish line nearly half-a-minute under!

Bremen-Half-Marathon-Splits

I couldn’t be more thrilled with my new personal best for a half marathon: 2:04:32.  It’s nearly 4 minutes faster than my last half marathon this year in Bonn, which was also a personal best — meaning I’ve taken a total of 9 minutes off of my half marathon time this year.  This is HUGE!  I’ve been running half marathons for more than a decade, and never really saw too much improvement in my finish times until now.  I’m SO going after that sub-2:00 half marathon in 2015.   And my 5K and 10K splits from this race were pretty dang close to personal records, so we’ll see if I have time for a few of those too.

But in the meantime, I need some rest.  Actually, thanks to this cold, I’ve had a little more rest than I bargained for this week.  But I guess I needed it.  Once I’m well again, I look forward to getting in more cross-training than usual in the form of swimming and strength  training and yoga.   Sounds like fun!

Have you been enjoying the lovely fall weather lately?  Any races planned for the coming months?

Traveling. Running. Living.