Looking Back at Travel in 2016

Yes, most people do their year-end travel roundups at year’s end — but hey, better late than never, right? I figured that I finally have a free moment and I should make the most of it. So let’s get started! The past year was full of travel to unexpected places…

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

First up in March was a work trip to this former Soviet republic in Central Asia. I spent most of my time in Bishkek, the capital city, and visited Ala-Too Square, the State History Museum, Panfilov Park, as well as Ala Archa National Park. I really had no preconceptions of what Bishkek would be like, and found it all to be super fascinating. Which is great, because it looks like I’ll be heading to the eastern part of the country in mid-2017!

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Istanbul and Sanliurfa, Turkey

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Like with Kyrgyzstan, I really wan’t expecting to head to Turkey even once, but somehow ended up there three times in 2016! The first visit was a week-long trip in June for a conference, which included lots of sightseeing and good food and coffee, plus a day trip to Heybeliada Island. A few weeks later, I spent another couple of nights in Istanbul, but this time didn’t really have a chance to escape the meeting location, but did thoroughly enjoy my 31st floor room with floor-to-ceiling windows! 

Finally, in November, I spent a few days in the south eastern corner of Turkey in Sanliurfa (known as the hometown of Abraham) and visited a container city for Syrian refugees near the shared border with Syria.  Unfortunately, the security situation in Turkey has been slowly, but surely declining for awhile now. Although I didn’t have any issues on my trips, each visit seemed to be bookended by explosions or attacks. In other words, I cherished the time I was able to spend in Turkey, because I don’t know for how much longer it is going to be safe to travel there.

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

New York and Washington, DC

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

This trip had me back in my old stomping grounds with a close group of friends from my grad school days in New York. In addition to our mini-reunion in DC, I also visited some new-to me sights: like the MLK Memorial, the Library of Congress, and the Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. In New York, I mostly just visited my old haunts and spent time with friends. Both places are so familiarly comforting, and I always feel immediately at home in them.

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Stockholm, Sweden

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Perhaps one of the most entertaining travels of the year was my trip to Stockholm.  The work portion of my time in Sweden involved a formal dinner with the King of Sweden in the Parliament building, shaking his hand during a coffee break, a Smörgåsbord at the city hall, and mingling with ambassadors, military advisors, and NATO officials. Not my typical professional milieu, let’s just put it that way. Even more fun was the few days of free time with a colleague and friend afterwards, exploring the city up and down, an amazing meal at Fotografiska’s restaurant, and a drink at a bar made entirely of ice. Stockholm definitely won my heart!

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Nepal

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Of all my adventures in 2016, my trip to Nepal and trek along the Mardi Himal trail in the Himalayan mountains was probably the most rejuvenating and came at just the right time for me. Not only did I get to spend quality time with a good friend, I also made wonderful new friends in those mountains. It was so wonderful to strip away the hectic pace of everyday life and focus in on what matters.

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Seattle

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

And finally, what year would be complete without a trip to Seattle for the holidays? My hometown is still my favorite place on the planet and I am always a little sad to leave my family behind afterwards.

Looking Back at Travel in 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

So that’s it for 2016! If I can manage half as many adventures in 2017, I will be more than happy.

How are your travel plans shaping up for this year? Any place I should add to my travel list?

Books | The Rest of 2016

Books: The Rest of 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

Books: The Rest of 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

In August, I shared my thoughts on the 10 books I had read so far in 2016 — so it’s long overdue for me to share a bit about the 8 books that rounded out the year…

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was by far my favorite among this group. It starts with two half-sisters born in Ghana in the 1700’s — one sold into slavery and the other married off to one of the Englishmen running the slave trade. The book follows their offspring into modern day, generation by generation, each chapter flipping back and forth between the two lineages. It very much reminded me of Alex Haley’s Roots, but with the stark contrast between the sisters’ different paths. So good!

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro. Undoubtedly a classic, the books follows a young girl through her adolescence in rural Canada in the 1940s. Initially the story had a bit of a To Kill A Mockingbird feeling for me, but clearly focused on themes around girl- and womanhood. Definitely worth a read.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. It’s hard to feel ambivalent about Murakami’s books — I would guess you either love ’em or hate ’em. Kafka on the Shore is one of his most well known books , which I read with some friends who had recently returned from some time in Japan. We each read the book translated into our own native language (to see if part of the understanding of his stories relies on the translation) — English, German, and Romanian. I still think that my first Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, will always be my favorite, but Kafka on the Shore had plenty of strange and unsettling elements to keep you reading.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman was my least favorite book of the bunch and of the year. The premise is interesting: a lighthouse keeper and his wife living alone on an isolated small island on the coast of Australia between the World Wars. A small baby washes up on island in a boat, and instead of trying to find the baby’s mother, they keep her instead. I just didn’t find the main character at all sympathetic in her choices and spent much of the book being irritated with her, rather than having her situation wrench my heart.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. This book is the follow-up in the trilogy that began with Code Name Verity about female English fighter pilots in World War II, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first book. This story takes an even darker tone, as a pilot is shot down and held prisoner in the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, about 50 miles north of Berlin. The details of the story are both shocking and painful to read, but the story is wonderful.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett was an interesting read, but not necessarily one of my favorites. The story follows the relationship between a teenage girl and a pastor’s son — and the resulting pregnancy, abortion, and cover-up — over the course of their adult lives. Their decision haunts everyone in the story, and kind of felt overdone to me.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I read this book back in 1999, but decided to read it again after returning from my trek in the Himalayas. Obviously, my experience hiking in those mountains pales in comparison to actual mountaineering, but it was fascinating to reread this account of the 1996 tragedy that occurred on Mount Everest. Even during our comparatively mild trek, there was a single hiker on his own who went missing along the highest stretch of the trail, resulting in search helicopters trying to locate him. In other words, respect for the mountains and the altitude was definitely at the top of my mind, and I loved rereading this book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This novel requires a good portion of the suspension of disbelief, telling the tale of a man who  is unwillingly thrown backwards and forwards in time, and his relationship with the love of his life, who experiences his past, future, and present selves. Thinking about their story twists your mind a bit, and you can either make yourself crazy by trying to build a sensible timeline of their story, or you can just give into it and let it flow. It wasn’t my favorite book of all time, but certainly entertaining.

What do you think? Looking back over the entire year, my favorite books were Homegoing (mentioned above), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and When Breath Becomes Air. What were your favorite reads of 2016?

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!