InstaFriday | Reflecting on January

InstaFriday: Reflecting on January | No Apathy Allowed

Well, I suppose since January has come and gone, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to reflect back on it before we get too deep into February, right?

The first week or so of the year was spent recovering from jet lag and getting back into the groove of life in Bremen. It was a comparatively quiet month at work, offering a chance to prepare for the crazy whirlwind that February has already become. My heart continues to ache for dear friends in the midst of life’s unfair struggles, and I grieve for an acquaintance who left this world way too soon.

On a totally different front, I’ve been taken aback by how volatile the first two weeks of the new US presidency have been. Despite the name of this blog (born amidst the demonstrations and protests during W’s second term), I most definitely grew complacent over the last eight years. I clearly need to get comfortable again with actively voicing dissent, and come to terms with a few significant changes this time around: living abroad rather than in NYC, being in my late 30’s instead of my late 20’s, and navigating the pros and cons of social media. These are definitely trying times, but I am filled with hope that we will continue to be able to unite together to make the world a better place.

So let’s just say that in February, I want to remember to keep my eyes open for beauty and joy amongst the chaos and busy-ness.

InstaFriday: Reflecting on January | No Apathy Allowed

InstaFriday: Reflecting on January | No Apathy Allowed

InstaFriday: Reflecting on January | No Apathy Allowed

InstaFriday: Reflecting on January | No Apathy Allowed

What do you have planned for this month?

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Do you know that I schlepped my DSLR camera all the way to Seattle over Christmas without taking it out of its case even once? Hmm. Guess that goes to show how dependent I’ve become on my iPhone and Instagram. In any case, I spent two weeks at home over the holidays — in Seattle’s Pioneer Square with my folks and in the foothills of Mt. Rainier with my sister and her family. I definitely made the rounds as usual to Zeitgeist Coffee, Maneki, and Pike Place Market. I also discovered Casco Antiguo, where I got my Mexican food fix,  Black Diamond Bakery, and BRGR Bar. I went to as many movies as I could so that I don’t have to wait until they come out in Germany (if they even make it here) — Manchester by the Sea tore my heart out, Jackie was incredible, and Arrival left my head spinning. (Still on my list are Fences, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Lion, and La La Land.) And to start the year off right, we headed over to Alki Beach and joined in the Polar Bear Swim with a couple hundred other crazies. Altogether, a perfect holiday!

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

Travel | Christmas in the Northwest | No Apathy Allowed

And has your new year gotten off to a good start?

Travel | Nepal’s Mardi Himal Trek

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Trekking in the Himalayan mountains has been something that I’ve dreamed of doing for awhile now, so when a friend of mine living in Nepal told me about an all women’s trek that she and her sister were organizing, I didn’t miss a single beat before agreeing to join. Without a doubt, the best decision I made all year was this one that I didn’t even have to think about! And less than five months later, I found myself in Kathmandu.

Originally, we had planned to fly out from Kathmandu to Pokhara — a short 30-minute flight (or alternatively an 8-hour drive) — the day after I arrived. But apparently a political strike was called for that day, forbidding all forms of driving, so we rescheduled our trek to start the day after the strike instead. I actually welcomed the extra time to gather my thoughts and repack a bit since I had made a brief work trip to Sanliurfa, Turkey on my way out to Kathmandu. And it gave me the chance to meet two more members of our trekking group for drinks and trip planning.

The following morning we were joined by the final two members of our group to get started on our big adventure. Together, we were four Americans (two sisters living in Nepal, me in Germany, and one actually living in the US), a Brit (also living in Nepal), and a Nepali (who had grown up in New Zealand) and although many of us had literally just met, we got along famously. So famously, in fact, that our all women’s trek developed a bit of a reputation along the trail — no one was quite sure what to make of us, and there was no simple or quick explanation for how we came to be in the mountains together or why were having so much fun!

I won’t go into a day-by-day retelling of our trek, simply because I have waited too long and I’m afraid a lot of the details of when and where and how high are a bit muddled by now.* But here are some basics… We chose the Mardi Himal trek, which is just east of the more popular Annapurna Base Camp trek, and takes you for 6 days along the ridges above the ABC trail up towards Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4500 meters (14,764 feet). Established in 2012, the route is still relatively less traveled and bit more rustic — absolutely perfect for our purposes. And we had the best guide and porters in the world from Three Sisters Adventure Trekking.

At certain points along the trail there were tea houses where you could purchase a hot meal and pay for a very basic shared room for the night. No showers and pit latrines were standard. There was also no heating in the rooms (and sometimes no electricity), so after watching the spectacular sunsets over the mountains and feeling the corresponding drop in temperature, we had the choice of playing cards in the dining area near the wood stove or diving into our sleeping bags and turning in for the night (usually by 8/8:30pm).

Basically, every morning we would wake up around 6am with the sun, layer up for breakfast by 7am, and try to hit the trails by 8am. We lucked out and had amazing weather and views every single day — with hardly a single cloud in sight the whole week! During the day, I would say it was at least 65F/18F (if not warmer) in the sun — letting us trek in t-shirts even. But by the evening, the higher up we got, the more layers we had to wear once the sun went down. At our highest tea house — High Camp at 3600 meters (11,811 feet) — in the evening I wore two pairs of wool socks, thermal pants, hiking pants, a merino wool t-shirt, a merino wool long-sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, a down jacket, and a wool hat.

Usually we spent about 4-6 hours trekking per day, and then would spend the afternoon and evening relaxing at the tea house we had arrived at. Living at sea level in Bremen, I was very respectful of the effect that the altitude had on my body. But since we had such a gradual acclimatization (Kathmandu is about 1400 meters), I found it much easier to adjust to than arriving at 3400 meters from sea level via airplane like I did in Cusco, Peru about 11 years ago.

The longest and most difficult day had us trekking from about 7am until 4pm or so — from Badal Danda (3200 meters) to High Camp (3600 meters), where we left most of our heavy stuff, to Mardi Himal Base Camp (4500 meters) and back to High Camp. We definitely underestimated the amount of time we were going to need once we had left High Camp to reach the Mardi Himal Base Camp and did not bring the appropriate amount of food with us.

We were all moving very slowly any way due to the elevation, but still feeling relatively good by the time we made it to a look out point at about 4200 meters elevation. After taking a group photo and a bit of a break for snacks and water, two members of our group decided to turn around and return to High Camp. The rest of us were too tempted by having our goal so close, so we kept going. But those extra 300 meters were definitely harder than the whole rest of the trek combined. By this time the elevation was kicking in, and in addition to having to move very slowly, I was getting lightheaded and a bit groggy. But we eventually made it and had a somewhat subdued celebration at 4500 meters — the highest point on this trail, with out-of-this-world views of Annapurna South (7219 meters) and the sacred Fishtail mountain (6993 meters).

After taking a million photos, we started our 3+ hour trek back down to High Camp. At this point I was feeling pretty terrible — probably a combination of altitude and not enough to eat — and the only thing that was keeping me going was imagining a big can of sour-cream-and-onion Pringles and a bottle of Sprite (which are, funnily enough, two things that I definitely don’t consume at home). By the time I made it back down to High Camp, I was completely physically and emotionally spent — evidenced by the fact that I broke down into sobs in my friend’s arms when I learned that there were no Pringles! But they did have Sprite, so I made do with that and some fresh dal bhat instead.

With some food in my stomache, I felt more like myself again, and could enjoy the most amazing night sky I have ever seen. Free from pollution of all kinds, in complete darkness, and just that bit closer to the heavens, I saw more stars that night than I have in my entire life. I gaped as long as I could stand the cold temperatures and tried to burn the image onto my brain.

Really, the entire trip I just felt so incredibly grateful to be near some of the highest mountains in the world, forced to focus on the moment and be present in every step I took, completely removed from news and social media (the perfect antidote for post-election depression), and laughing harder and more often than I have in a very long time.

I really don’t know if I can describe my trip any better than that. So maybe I will leave you here with some of my many photos (even more can be found here) and with the encouragement to seek out the small adventures in life, whatever they may be.

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Nepal's Mardi Himal Trek | No Apathy Allowed

* For those curious, I’ve listed our itinerary below as best as I can remember — but I make no guarantees of its accuracy!

Day 1: Pokhara – Australian Camp – Deurali (2100 meters)
Day 2: Deurali – Forest Camp (2600 meters)
Day 3: Forest Camp – Low Camp (2970 meters) – Badel Danda (3250)
Day 4: Badal Danda – High Camp (3600 meters) – Look Out Two (4200 meters) – Mardi Himal Base Camp (4500 meters) – High Camp
Day 5: High Camp – Low Camp – Siding (1280 meters)
Day 6: Siding – Lumle Bazar – Milan Chowk

Travel | Surreal Stockholm

Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed

Dear friends, it’s been over a month since my 5-day visit to Stockholm!  Part work/part leisure, this trip was really kinda out of this world. So out of this world, in fact, that I wanted to write blog post upon blog post telling you about every single detail. But life has a way of straightening out your priorities, so here I am six weeks later with a short-but-sweet post instead.

Highlights from the work portion involved attending a formal dinner at the Swedish Parliament with the King of Sweden, a traditional Swedish Smörgåsbord at City Hall (where the Nobel Prize banquet is held) the following night, and making small talk with ambassadors, NATO leaders, mayors, and members of parliament from various countries. I was even invited to meet His Majesty during a coffee break — being introduced to a king is definitely one of those moments in life where you wonder: how in the world is this even happening?!

Apart from work though, this time I managed to see a bit more of Stockholm than I had during my brief visit in April. Highlights included dinner at Urban Deli in Södermalm, cinnamon rolls and coffee in Fabrique, checking out the public art of the Stockholm’s subway stations, half-an-hour in a bar made entirely of ice, and a fantastic exhibition of photos by Anton Corbijn (until December 4, 2016) and Bryan Adams at Fotografiska.

Already flying high from the exhibition, my friend and I took a chance at Fotografiska’s restaurant — and got really lucky when someone cancelled their reservation just nearly as we walked in the door. The restaurant doesn’t offer a typical menu, but instead creates a weekly menu based on local, high quality products. The dishes are relatively small and “are cooked and combined based on colour, form, aroma and texture.” We decided to go for the full taste menu — choosing four small dishes each (1 cold, 2 warm, and 1 dessert), paired with drinks for each dish (photos from dinner are in my Flickr album, if you’re interested). The whole experience was beyond amazing and we savored each bite, along with the lookout over Stockholm’s harbor. Definitely a must and worth the splurge the next time you’re in town!

Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
The beautiful venue: Artipelag
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
Gamla Stan, the old town
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
The City Library
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
City Hall at dusk
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
Gamla Stan

Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
The Royal Palace
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
The Royal Palace
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
Basking in the sun
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
Stockholm subway station
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
Stockholm subway station
Travel: Surreal Stockholm | No Apathy Allowed
Stockholm subway station

I could certainly go on and on, but it’s time for this post to finally get published. What a fantastic city! I very much hope that I  will have another chance to spend even more time there. If you’re interested in more photos — check out my album here.

What are your thoughts on Sweden? And how about royal families — are you a fan or do you find the it a bit silly?

Race Report | Bremen Half Marathon 2016

Bremen Half Marathon 2016

This may end up being one of my shortest race reports ever because basically it went like this: I came, I ran, I had fun! I made it through my training for the Bremen Half Marathon just fine,  but my motivation to do the hard work needed to achieve a personal record pretty much disappeared over the course of my training cycle. So instead I simply made it my goal to enjoy the race.

The morning of, I tried to sleep as long as possible. Do you know how hard it is to time your breakfast and pre-race fueling when your race doesn’t start until 11:40am? Don’t hate me, but I really would have preferred an earlier start time so that my entire day wouldn’t be consumed by the race — but c’est la vie. I guess the organizers have to balance out the fact that there’s a 10K, a half marathon, and a marathon happening on the same day.  Anyway, I had plenty of time for my almond butter toast and coffee for breakfast, and then another banana about an hour before the race.

I walked to the start, which took about 20 minutes, instead of trying to figure out which tram lines were running without disruption. After changing and finding my way to corral, I started the half marathon along with 4,000 of my closest friends!

Pretty much off the bat I fell into what seemed like a reasonable pace and basically just maintained it for the rest of the race. I didn’t want to try any fancy stuff — just put in a good effort and have a good time. It was my third  time running this route, and I have to say it may just be one of my favorite half marathon races — starting in Bremen’s iconic Marktplatz, up along and through the Bürgerpark, through Findorff and the Überseestadt, along the Schlachte and Osterdeich, a round through the Weser Stadium, and then back into the city center.

I crossed the finish line in 2:14:39, which is more or less an average time for me — about 10 minutes slower than my best time. So my 13th half marathon won’t go down in history for me, but I still continue to be amazed that my body can pull through such a distance like it’s no big deal. That is definitely something to be grateful for!

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016

Yesterday was the second ever Bremer Fotomarathon and of course I was there! If you remember from last year, it’s a photo challenge — 1 City, 9 Hours, 9 Photos. The basic idea is to take nine photos pertaining to nine themes which you receive at various check-in points throughout the day. At the end of the day, you submit nine photos which need to be in the correct order and cannot have been edited. (This is already my fourth Fotomarathon — two were in Berlin — check out my previous reports!)

Start – Kulturzentrum Schlachthof, 11:00 am

Although it was a rainy morning, nearly 300 participants showed up at the Schlachthof to take part (see if you can spot me in this group photo). We received a card stating the themes for the first three photos, as well as the time and location for the first check-in point. I immediately found a quiet spot and sat down to organize my bag and my thoughts.

Although nine photos in nine hours is certainly challenging, it’s nothing compared to the 24 photos in 12 hours of the Berlin Fotomarathons, so I guess that bit of perspective makes the Fotomarathon Bremen seem totally manageable. But I still wanted to change my strategy for this year: conserve time and energy by focusing on surrounding locations or locations that are on the way to the next check-in point. (Last year I ended up traveling twice to the Überseestadt, which was a huge time suck.) And invest that extra time and energy into taking better photos!

 1. Fliegender Start / Flying start

Bremen Fotomarathon 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

The first photo is often the most difficult because it requires your start number to be a part of the picture. I wandered over to the main train station to see if I could find some inspiration. But I couldn’t come up with a creative way to incorporate the number 159, nor did I find the number anywhere “in the wild” to photograph. So I took a photo of my number with my iPhone “flying”  in front of a train. I definitely won’t win any bonus points for creativity with this one, but oh well.

2. In die Hufe Kommen / Hurry up, don’t waste time

Bremen Fotomarathon 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

By the way, all of the given themes are idiomatic phrases that you can either interpret literally or figuratively for your photos. I generally found the figurative meanings to be more interesting to photograph, but not always.  With my second photo I wanted to capture the hustle and bustle of the main train station. Although I put up a fight after being scolded by security for taking photos on an overlook without having express permission of each and every person in the photo (never mind that their faces were not recognizable), it kind of killed my mood. So I went outside and starting looking for another way to capture it. Not quite the same as what I envisioned, but you get the idea.

3. Boxenstopp / Pit stop

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

I started off by taking photos of the coffee I was drinking to refuel, but I wasn’t so happy with the results. So I headed up in the direction of the next check-in point to look for a bit of inspiration on the Uni Bremen campus. Although I spent nearly five years working at Uni Bremen, I haven’t been back in at least a year, so I was immediately struck by these red lounge chairs strewn throughout the campus. Perfect!

Check-in Point 1 – Universum, 2:00 pm

I arrived at the first check-in point with half-an-hour to spare, picked up the next card of themes and sat myself down with a doughnut to mull them over. Since entrance to the Universum was included with our Fotomarathon entry, I did consider flying through the exhibits in search of inspiration, but in the end decided against it in favor of staying outside.

4. In der Luft hängen / Hanging in the air

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Since I’d already walked through the university campus on my way to the check-point, I’d already scouted a few possibilities for photos and knew immediately that I would want to photograph this tower for my fourth photo. But a quick decision did not make for a quick photo! I must have spent at least half an hour trying out various angles and waiting for the clouds to pass and let some blue sky show.

5. Balanceakt / Balancing act

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

And then it was back to Universum to capture the famous building balancing on the water.

6. Großer Wurf / To achieve something out of the ordinary

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

After seeing that our second check-in point would be near the Weser Stadion, I knew I wanted to use the stadium for my photo. Although you could argue that Werder Bremen hasn’t really fit this theme over the last few seasons, the fans’ hope for a Großen Wurf (literally, a big throw) never ceases to amaze me. This shot was taken while standing between the solar panels and the stadium itself.

Check-in Point 2 – Galaxy – Henschenbusch, 5:00 pm

From the stadium, I walked over to the next check-in point. By this time, my bag was feeling extra heavy, my shoulders were aching, and I was overly warm now that the sun had decided to shine. The final set of themes frustrated me the most so I decided not to overthink them and simply set out in the direction of the Osterdeich  (an embankment along the Weser river).

7. Von der Rolle / Exhausted, confused

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

As opposed to the other photos, I decided on the literal interpretation of this theme (from the roll) as soon as I saw this construction site near the stadium.

8. Deichbremse

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

In case you’re wondering, a Deichbremse (or literally, embankment brake) is a special stool that was invented for the express purpose of sitting horizontally on a steep embankment. For my photo, I instead decided on the small garden houses that line the Weser river, providing a small break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

9. Endspurt / Final push

Fotomarathon Bremen 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Once I was already at Osterdeich (along with seemingly every other participant), the small boat which ferries passengers from one side of the river to the other seemed like a natural choice for my final photo.

Finish Line – Kunsthalle, 8:00 pm

Finished! Well, almost. First I had to sort through the nearly 200 photos and narrow down my favorites for the nine to be submitted. Although my motifs were clearly decided upon as a I went along, now I had to figure out which shots were my favorites. It was slow going, but luckily I had time to spare and could relax a bit at Coffee Corner before walking over to the art museum. Handing over my SD-card so that my photos could be copied over, I was admittedly a bit nervous but also ready to call it a day. After a nice glass of wine and equally nice conversation, I made it home exhausted a bit before 9 pm.

In total, I was on the go for about 10 hours and walked nearly 8 miles over the course of the day (not including the tram and bus rides I took to reach the first and second check-in points). My strategy to keep myself focused in terms of location worked out wonderfully and I always had plenty of time and never felt rushed (much unlike my first ever Fotomarathon where we were frantically selecting photos in a cab on the way to the final check-in point).

Intrigued? On October 15th and 16th, there will be a free exhibition in the Hafenmuseum Speicher XI of the pictures taken during the Fotomarathon so you can see for yourself how these themes were interpreted! Click here for more information.

 Would you ever participate in a Fotomarathon? Or does it just seem like way too much stress? 

For more reports on the Fotomarathon, check out:

Musikfest Bremen | An(other) Evening of Piano Music

Daniil_Trifonov2_Foto_Dario_Acosta
Danill Trifonov © Dario Acosta, Deutsche Grammophon

* Many thanks to Wirtschaftsförderung Bremen / bremen.online for the complementary tickets!  The opinions shared here are solely my own. *

Wow, last week was something of a doozy at work, with four *very important* deadlines. But somehow everything came together rather successfully, and I was able to celebrate with a piano concert at Die Glocke as part of the 27th annual Musikfest Bremen (remember the concert I saw last year?). But it wasn’t just any Klavierabend — it was a performance given by Daniil Trifonov, the Russian piano genius who is younger than the Musikfest itself. I saw Trifonov when he was in Bremen not too long ago touring with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and I jumped at the chance to see him play a full-length concert as a soloist.

Musikfest Bremen
Die Glocke. Photo courtesy of Musikfest Bremen.

He started by playing Bach’s Chaconne aus der Parita d-Moll für Violine solo BMV 1004reworked by Brahms to be played on the piano with the left hand. Wow. Sounds silly to say, but it really can’t be easy to play such a piece with only one hand and still have the music sound full and round. He went on to play Schubert’s Klaviersonate Nr. 18 G-Dur op. 78 D 894, which garnered much applause and loud Bravos from the audience. His Variationen über ein Thema von Paganini op. 35 (Heft 1) by Brahms was equally impressive.

But it wasn’t until after the intermission with Rachmaninow’s Sonate Nr. 1 d-Moll op. 28 that Trifonov really came alive. Quite suddenly he was living and breathing the piece, throwing his whole body and soul into the music. It was really a sight to see (and hear!), leaving my head spinning. Quite honestly, it was one of the best piano performances I’ve ever seen! The rest of the sold-out audience was just as enamored as I was, encouraging Trifonov on to three encores.

I loved every minute! And although Trifonov must have been exhausted, by the time we made our way down to the lobby, he was already seated and graciously signing cd’s and taking photos with a long line of fans.

Daniil_Trifonov3_Foto_Dario_Acosta_DG
Daniil Trifonov © Dario Acosta, Deutsche Grammophon
Musikfest Bremen | An(other) Evening of Piano Music
Steinway & Sons
Musikfest Bremen | An(other) Evening of Piano Music
An empty Glocke after the concert
Musikfest Bremen | An(other) Evening of Piano Music
Klavierabend
Musikfest Bremen | An(other) Evening of Piano Music
The terrace overlooking the Bibelgarten

The Musikfest Bremen continues on until September 10th, and features all sorts of music — jazz, classical, experimental — so make sure you don’t miss out!

Are you a fan of classical concerts? Which concert would you choose if you were going to the Musikfest Bremen?