Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Pot of Tea, Please!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love tea. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started. I have memories of hanging at my friend Laura’s house in the Bahamas and her preparing a hot tea with milk and sugar. Having never really been a tea drinker, I took a skeptical sip and declared, “that is delicious!” For the rest of that trip I insisted she prepare me a tea exactly as she did her own every morning when I woke up. (Thanks, Laura!)

I also have memories of ordering Té con Leche throughout Spain and Argentina when I was in the university. It was almost problematic how much I loved the steamy, foamy milk, but I continue to sip away, nonetheless.

Now that I am living in Germany, however, I find myself in the second country over the last year or two that doesn’t quite get tea. Of course you can go to specialty tea shops and purchase loose leaf tea from China or Japan, but what about the delicious pre-packaged brands that I can steap and enjoy while at work or home? I’ve gone through about 10 different brands, trying all different kinds of tea, hoping to find “the one” but have yet to discover it. It simply does not exist for mass consumption! And I have suffered through many mediocre, or worse, teas in the meantime.

So now that I am in London, I have gratefully acknowledged the potential for delicious tea consumption. And also realized that perhaps I could fulfill my long time desire to purchase a teapot! This is perhaps the truest indication that I am now an adult. I would prefer to have my tea served from a teapot rather than poured directly from the kettle into my cup.

As luck would have it, I was recommended to go to Whittard, a famous tea shop in London, where I finally found the teapot of my dreams! And you can be sure I purchased enough Earl Grey and English Breakfast Tea to last me a few months.

Hello, Gorgeous!

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This Runner’s View of London

After having such a nice run in Madrid, I felt brave enough to give it another go – this time in London.

I am in town for a Climate Change Conference called “Planet Under Pressure” and decided to arrive a couple of days early to sightsee, shop, and drink tea. So for the first two days I was staying at the apartment flat of a girl I went to high school with. Actually, we hadn’t spoken or even seen each other in close to 9 years, but both of us clearly had fond enough memories of the other that she was kind enough to let me stay, and we parted with promises for her to stay with me whenever she felt like popping over to Berlin! I love how Europe makes the world feel small…and so does growing up in a small town in NY!

So anyway, her flat is in a part of London known as Chelsea, somewhat near the South Kensington Underground (tube) stop. When I first exited the tube (late at night after what should have been a much shorter trip from Berlin to London…but London tends to like to complicate simple things, I find!) I was impressed by how beautiful the neighborhood is! There are a number of lovely bakeries and cafes and restaurants and shops lining the streets. Not to mention the abundance of trees coming into bloom!

When I finally made it to her apartment, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of relaxation and happiness. Her flat is on a gorgeous side street of a very busy Fulham Road (complete with bakeries and restaurants galore!) and her big comfy bed was calling my name! I had grand plans of getting dolled up (do people even know what that means anymore?) and hitting one of the many bars lining the block, but found that exhaustion prevailed and I was forced to succumb.

It was not without a positive benefit, however, as I was up with the sun the next morning, (thank you, mailman who could not fit my friend’s packages through the slot in the front door, for waking me at 8:45 am!) So I took the opportunity to look at MapMyRun.com and to put on my sneakers for a morning run. I headed north towards Kensington Gardens to get the chance for a run in some greenery, only getting mildly lost detoured along the way.

My biggest obstacle along the way was remembering that traffic flows in the opposite direction from (almost) everywhere else in the world and so I kept looking both directions at least 3 times before crossing any streets. It must have taken up an additional 10 minutes of my run, just making sure I wouldn’t be that girl who gets hit by a bus while looking left and stepping into the road.

I managed to squeeze in 45 minutes of solid running, (probably about an hour including all the interruptions due to traffic lights, checking for cars, and stopping to take photos along the way,) but overall it felt great to be out and running in another new city. As I said in my previous post, it really is the best way to get to know a new city, and to see a different side of things. Plus I got to feel very cultured saying that I ran through the Queen’s Gate to Kensington Gardens!

This Runner’s View of the World

A newfound hobby of mine when I travel is running. Those of you who have at least somewhat been following my adventure the last couple of years know that I’m still a hesitant runner. Like I can’t fully admit its a part of me, and yet it is the most natural thing in the world to me now. (Well, that and eating chocolate!)

I actually get excited to run when I travel since I know it’s an opportunity to see a new city from a completely different perspective. Usually early in the morning before the streets are crowded and there’s a peaceful calm hanging overhead. Lots of sunlight also helps! And sometimes walking around gets boring, but if you are running at a quicker pace (well, quicker than you walk anyway,) I find it’s impossible to be bored! And you see so many new and noteworthy things, (e.g. “oh I’ll just come back to that bakery at the end of the run!”)

Last weekend I visited my aunt and cousin who were traveling in Madrid. The first night I got there I was worn out from the 2 hour 40 minute flight, but we went out for tapas and vino anyway. The next morning I saw the sun shining outside and grew antsy thinking about getting out to El Parque Retiro before all the other Friday crowds started pouring in. I woke up my cousin, already fully dressed and ready to go, and we hit Calle Serrano heading south towards the park. Traffic lights can be a pain, but for the most part the streets were still calm. We were even able to do a bit of window shopping on our way down. Then you hit the park and it’s simply breathtaking! There are monuments and planned gardens everywhere you look. And lots of open and criss-crossing paths everywhere you look. It was so beautiful and I was grateful to be able to run through it.

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So this morning I find myself waking up in yet another new city (London) and the minute I saw the sun peek through the curtains I knew I couldn’t deny myself a run out to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

…To be continued…

How to Write to Customer Service

I had a terrible flight experience when leaving Madrid back to Berlin last night. Of course, the whole trip was amazing and I don’t want to discount that experience, but thought I’d share my letter to this airline’s customer service to tell the story accurately. I am leaving out the name of the budget airline I used to give them a chance to make things right. But if they don’t try to fix it, I will gladly update the post!

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing you to report an intolerable incident that occurred at Madrid Barajas airport with an Airline ‘X’ employee prior to boarding my flight from Madrid to Berlin yesterday evening, at about 19:45 on Monday, March 19, 2012. You may have already heard about the incident from the kind flight crew who were appalled at the occurrence and filed a separate, formal complaint on my behalf after hearing about the treatment I received from said employee.

I arrived at Gate Number XX in MAD Terminal 1 at 19:30 to board flight number XXX1234, (1 hour prior to the flight’s departure,) with a regulation size carry-on trolley and proceeded to board the flight. The woman at check in asked me to measure the size of the bag to verify it would fit within the constraints of the overhead space, (which I already knew it would as it was the same bag I had taken on the flight a few days earlier from Berlin to Madrid.) I complied with her request and proceeded to remove a few small items from the bag to carry with me to my seat on the plane which I would use during the flight, and placed some of these items in my pockets and held onto my book and wallet in my hands. The bag fit within the measurement device, but the woman at check in became unexpectedly angry with me for removing items and insisted that all items were required to remain in the bag and that I was not allowed to carry these items with me on board separately. I explained to her that I wished to keep the items at my seat (and would remove them from the bag as soon as I reached the door of the plane,) at which point she then refused to acknowledge that my bag fit within the constraints of the overhead locker space.

The woman told me that I was required to pay a 50 EUR fee to check the carry-on trolley I had with me. I told her there was no reason to pay this fee as I had already shown her that the bag fit within the constraints of the overhead locker. She explained that I had then wasted 30 minutes of her time and was not complying with her earlier request (to leave my wallet and book in the small suitcase.) I asked her to please acknowledge the bag fit within the overhead space, and she refused. I then asked the Airline ‘X’ female employee standing next to her to acknowledge that the bag fit within the measurement device, to which she replied that the first woman was her superior and that whatever she said was what she was required to follow.

She insisted that I was required to pay the fee (to check in my carry-on bag even though it was sufficiently small to fit ON the plane,) and I began to plead with her that I did not have the 50 EUR to check the bag and insisted that it would fit on the plane. She then said indignantly that she could not believe I was traveling without having any money on me. It is absolutely none of her business how much money one of her passengers has, and I could not believe her audacity to say such a rude and terrible thing to a paying customer! Her behavior continued to worsen as time passed and she threatened me by saying that the flight was leaving in 2 minutes and I would not be able to board the plane with my bag! At this point I began to cry because I was frustrated, afraid I would miss my flight, and was being forced to pay a 50 EUR fee discriminatorily. I would also like to note that this entire exchange occurred in Spanish and that the employee never once even attempted to speak to me in English, which is my mother tongue.

Without further consultation or resolution, the woman then got on her scooter and left the gate, leaving the second, inferior employee to handle the situation alone. The second employee told me the flight was about to leave the gate and ordered me to pay the baggage fee she was instructed to collect by her superior, claiming this was the “regulation of the airline”. I was left with no choice but to hand her my American Express credit card to be charged 50 Euros against my will. When I requested the name of the employee who had been abusive to me, she refused to provide me with her name! Imagine being treated like garbage by an employee of an airline that you have PAID to fly with and then being told that there was no way to file a formal complaint about this employee! I again asked for her name or a contact person with whom I could speak and was again refused.

When I entered the plane, I was the last one on board and I was visibly upset and frustrated. The flight crew saw that I was crying from how I had just been treated, (they had been informed of the incident from within the plane,) and asked if I was okay and to explain what had happened. When I explained the story and the appalling behavior of the woman at the counter, they were horrified! At this point they asked me to help describe the event in detail so that they could submit a formal complaint of the incident because it was the worst treatment of an airline passenger that they had heard of to date. I was also informed at this time that other passengers had been asked to check their bags instead of carrying them on board to avoid over-stuffing the lockers, but not a single other passenger had been required to pay the 50 EUR fee. They also noted that there was still plenty of space available in the overhead lockers.

In the 20 or so years that I have been flying, I have never had such a terrible and traumatic airport experience. Airline ‘X’ has been known to be an airline that is accessible to both business and leisure travelers, and one should never expect to be treated like complete trash, especially when they are paying money for the service. I cannot even imagine such an awful incident occurring with a business man, or any other professional who is using the airline. It is unthinkable.  And it is especially unthinkable when you realize that we belong to such a global community in which one person’s voice can be carried quite a long way. I am truly shocked at what occurred with your airline yesterday and what a horrible taste it has left in my mouth about how your business is run!

Furthermore, I have been wrongly charged a 50 EUR fee for which I would like to be compensated. I will not tolerate such atrocious treatment and request your immediate attention to this incident. I kindly request a reply on your behalf so that I am not required to take further action.

Sincerely,

Airline ‘X’ Passenger

Following My Shadow

This weekend was certainly beautiful. We were lucky with the warm weather – okay, “warm” is a relative term, but mid-to-high-40’s is pretty warm for Berlin in early March! And I even got to hang out with my shadow who was in hiding for the better part of last week.

Hi there, old friend!

I spent the weekend mostly wandering around with Lotte, finding new and different parks every day that we could romp in and hopefully meet a cute male dog or two for her to flirt with. Or am I confusing what each of us was looking for?

We started Sunday at Mauer Park, which can get quite crowded as the day wears on due to their Sunday Flohmarkt (Flea Market for us Anglo-Saxons.) But we were there early enough that we didn’t have to fight the crowds for our spot in the sun. And Lotte was happy to just run free searching for friends.

Setting up the Flea Market Sunday morning

The spot in Mauer Park where Karaoke magic happens in the afternoons

The happiest Lotte running full speed towards me

Thanks for the treats!

Never Giving Lotte Back

So I am on day 8 of hosting Lotte in my home, and I’ve decided that it would be impossible to give her back to her rightful owner! She is just the sweetest most loveable dog, and I don’t see how I could give her up now. From walks in the park, to lounging on the couch watching TV, to cuddling in bed (shhh, don’t tell about that one!) having her around has been amazing. I really love this dog!

Lotte on the Balcony

Lotte watching me eat from under the table (right before she got some ham as a reward for all her doting...)

Lotte and Sharif patiently waiting for the okay to get up and play some more!

Lotte lying (somewhat awkwardly) at my desk at the office

Sunday Pie

So after enjoying a delicious brunch at Cafe Anna Blume with a friend on Sunday, and wandering around Kollwitzplatz with Lotte, we were craving something sweet.

The unfailingly delicious brunch tower at Anna Blume!

Not wanting to go back and fight the crowds at Anna Blume once again for a piece of delicious cake, we decided to wander back near my place and test out the delicious pies of Zwei Fur Allerlei on Pappelallee 15 in Prenzlauer Berg, once again.

You may remember the last time I ventured in there I tried out the Chocolate Banana Pie. And while it was delicious and fresh and different, it wasn’t my favorite banana pie ever. So I was eager to test out something new this time.

While my friend was eager to try out the Pear Whiskey Chocolate Pie, (which I thought sounded like the worst dessert on the planet,) I was craving the Marshmallow Cream Pie. Lucky for us both, they were out of our two chosen pies, and we were forced to select two completely different, but equally delicious options.

Pie Number 1: Blueberry

While the photo of this pie does not look like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, the pie was DELICIOUS! They served it warm and the teeny tiny blueberries inside were packed with a juicy, sweet flavor. This slice was not too sweet either, but just perfectly yummy. I might dream about this in the days to come.

Pie Number 2: Chocolate Cherry Cream

Wow. The rating for this pie was AMAZING. It was a layer of bittersweet chocolate followed by pure cherries and perhaps even a little cherry jam of sorts, and then followed by a light and slightly sweet layer of cream. It looks as amazing as it tasted! Not to mention the hot kiss they placed on top.

I’d have to say my second experience at this little Prenzlauer Berg Pie Shop was much better than my first, and the first was really good – so I’m convinced I’ll need to test this place out many times in the future (and try out ever option they have on the menu!)