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Port of Hamburg: Photo Essay

Sorry Philadelphia, but I’m having a love affair with Hamburg, Germany.  I love its old traditions balanced with a spirit of new ideas, its humble, working class beginnings, and this port city’s seafaring feel.  Where Philadelphia’s shipping history was almost snubbed out because of America’s highway system (in recent years, there’s been a huge push to revitalize it), Hamburg’s is still thriving 826 years later.  Honestly, a life at sea is not complete with a stop at Hamburg Harbor. This past winter, I took a trip back to visit Hamburg and was welcomed by unseasonably beautiful weather.  As a result,

Heini Hiltunen Timo Kaukonen, left, sweats it out at the Sauna World Championships.
From ESPN "Sports from Hell"

That Time I Almost Died in a German Sauna

There are two types of people in this world: there are those who go to saunas for relaxation.  Then there are those who turn relaxation into a competition.  Yes, there are literally people who go to saunas to challenge one another on who can stay in a sauna the longest.  Back in 2010 I read a story about that Russian guy who died in a sauna competition in Finland.  The relaxation aspect of it I can get, but I think it’s a bit crazy that people take it to a whole new level and put their bodies through stress just

dall sheep

Have You Seen the Dall Sheep?

Alaska is teeming with wildlife.  In fact, Denali National Park & Preserve is home to 39 species of mammals, 169 types of birds, 14 fish, and 1 amphibian.  Amongst them are wild bears, moose, coyotes, wolves, eagles, and other creatures worth excitedly wiping out your camera and accidentally dropping it for.  But no animal in Alaska gets the older male tourist population more pumped than the Dall sheep. When compared to the other majestic creatures that you encounter in Alaska, the Dall sheep are simpletons.  You can usually observe them far off in the distance, hanging out on the peaks

Sun Rise

From the Darkness Comes Light

Hey there readers, On A Travel Broad, I tend to focus only on the positive and exciting side of my life and travels.  I share with you pictures from my time living in Germany and stories of my jaunts through Europe and North America in hopes of inspiring you to go out and experience the world for yourselves.  But I hardly ever discuss the difficult times I sometimes face.  Some of these challenging times are by my choice because I love traveling and sharing my travels with you gives me purpose.  In the 5 years since I’ve started this blog,

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How to Navigate Germany When Deutsche Bahn Train Drivers Go on Strike

If you want to tick off a group of Germans, tell them that the train is going to be fifteen minutes late. But if you tell them that none of the trains will be running due to a strike? Utter chaos! Hundreds of thousands of travelers depend on the Deutsche Bahn to transport them to airports, cities and neighboring countries in Europe. But as Deustche Bahn train drivers prepare to go on strike tomorrow through Monday, these travelers, many of whom will be converging on Berlin this weekend for the 25th anniversary of its fall, are scrambling for an alternative.

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Playing with Roma Children

Below Acropolis in Athens, Greece, Roma children work as street performers, playing accordions, drums and the bouzouki, a type of Greek guitar, for money.  They purposely target marketplaces and tourist areas, knowing that that’s where the cash flows the fastest.  There are several levels of aggressiveness when it comes to begging.  Some casually perform on the street corner — in fact, the older kids are very talented at playing folk music, turning street corners in to concerts.  Then there are others who go from cafe table to cafe table playing music while simultaneously begging for money. Some get creative by

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Answer to the Infamous Question, “What’s Your Favorite Place in the World”

“What’s your favorite place in the world?”  It’s often the first question that everyone asks when they learn that I’m a travel writer.  In my younger years, I often answered with a place I had recently gotten back from, mostly for the sake of conversation.  “Oh I was surprised how much I loved Denmark” or “I loved Barcelona for the food”. But the more I travel, the more I realize that there is no definitive answer to this question.  People sometimes expect me to pick a favorite place because of the sites (“isn’t Paris the best because of the Eiffel

York Post

York: England’s Most Haunted Town is Actually Charming

York: England’s most haunted town.  Seems like a bold claim, but when you look at York’s gruesome history of the Black Death, murder, poverty, war, and genocide you can kind of see where these ghost stories come from.  As a result, many businesses in York are cashing in on things that go bump in the night.  Nightly ghost tours take upwards of 75 thrill-seekers at a time to go ghost hunting at famous sites, hotels offer premier rates to stay in their “haunted suite”, and pubs have banners and signs claiming York’s most haunted pub, not because of any quantifiable

cats of athens

The Cats of Athens

People often talk about how many dogs are roaming around Athens, but let’s take a moment to enjoy the cats. With the picturesque views and the natural coyness of cats, I have enough photos to do a 15-month “Kittehs of Athens” Calendar if I wanted to.  Here’s a few of my favorite felines so far.

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6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Road Tripping Alaska

This past September, my roommate and I embarked on #RoadTripAlaska.  We flew into Anchorage, rented a car and hit the road with only a vague idea of what we wanted to accomplish.  I must say, that given the minimal planning, my roommate and I did a phenomenal job going with the flow and making it up as we went along. But after the journey, I had a dose of retrospect.  Looking back there are things that I learned on the journey that I wish I had thought of beforehand — but I guess there’s always next time! 1. Bring toiletpaper

Ways the Barcelonian Sense of Community Surprised Me: Part 1

In a world where we are constantly connected to one another and have immediate access to all of the answers we ever need, it’s hard to be surprised anymore.  Nowadays people consult friends or the Internet before embarking on any new adventure.  They create itineraries before going on vacation and read reviews on restaurants, hotels and tours before first trying it out to formulate an opinion for themselves.  That is why when we went to Barcelona, Nicole and I let ourselves be surprised by what this Mediterranean city had to offer.

So we ditched the internet, threw out the guidebooks and let ourselves discover Barcelona for ourselves — free from any expectations, which might be why we found the city to be such a freeing experience.  Sure, the city was impressive, but it was the people and their sense of community that surprised me the most.

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1.) A Welcoming and Diverse Community

Tom Cat is as surprised as me!

Tom Cat is as surprised as me!

Nicole and I were in need of a stiff drink after our narrow escape from Paris.  After settling in our hostel we explored the narrow gothic alleyways of El Ravel, one of Barcelona’s oldest districts.  We abandoned all suggestions and waited for the perfect bar to strike our fancy — that’s when we stumbled upon the Olímpic Bar.  It had the feel of a trendy hipster bar, with its brightly colored walls and the projection of Hanna-Barbera cartoons on the wall, but the crowd was a cultural melting pot with patrons of all ages.

Viva la silly hats!

Viva la silly hats!

Nicole and I were trying on a couple of silly hats from an old couple who had already started celebrating the Carneval season, when suddenly a middle aged man came up and said something in Spanish.  Our blank stares were a dead giveaway that we were not from the area. “English?” he asked.  “Si” we replied in a futile attempt at Spanish.  He asked if we could watch his and his friend’s drink while they went out and smoked.  We agreed but were curious as to why they would trust in complete strangers who didn’t speak the native tongue to watch their drinks.

We were ladies of our word and sat at their table to protect their drinks until they returned.  When they got back we introduced ourselves as two backpackers from the United States visiting Barcelona for our first time.  Their back story was way more fascinating than ours.  They were Iranians who had escaped their oppressive homeland and explored the world for a shot at freedom.  They shared stories of their resistance against their government — offenses that ranged from political marches and protests to illegally selling Michael Jackson tapes at the school yard — both transgressions that got them imprisoned in tiny 6 foot by 6 foot cells.  After serving their time in prison, the men joined the military, served for a year and saved up €10,000 each for passports — all prerequisites just to leave Iran.

Nicole and I were stunned not only by their calmness while telling this story, but by the fact that they held onto a dream for years and with persistence they were able to escape Iran and pursue the life they dreamed of.  Speaking with them made me feel limitless — they encouraged us that nothing can stand in our way and no matter how long and dark a path in our lives may be, as long as we keep pushing forward, we would make it through.

The fact that they had settled down in Barcelona spoke to what the city had to offer to a couple of Iranian escapees.  This curious couple of rag time vagabonds could live anywhere in the world but they settled in Barcelona.  Though other countries would scrutinize their background of the rebel rousing that landed them in prison in Iran, Spain and the state of Catalonia welcomed them with open arms and treated them as one of their own.

2.) A City of Romantics

20140228_002323After our uplifting conversation with the Iranians at the Olímpic bar, we set off to Marsella, a 200 year old bar, reputedly the oldest bar in Barcelona.  There we enjoyed the house drink, Absinthe, and chatted amongst ourselves… but not for long.  We had only been in the city for 6 hours and had several encounters that showed us how important the concept of “community” was to Barcelonians, so needless to say we weren’t left alone for long.  Nicole got up to use the restroom and I was approached by a tall, handsome Spaniard with olive skin and thick, dark hair.  He handed me a note and shyly tried to duck out but I stopped him.  “Wait!  I don’t speak Spanish! What does your note say?”  He whipped around and his perfectly sculpted hair followed, framing his soft yet prominent jawline.  He took the note back, opened it and read it in Spanish:

“Tres Cosas

1.) Eres muy guapa

2.) La vida es muy corta

3.) Si te ries, un beso”

Then he translated, pausing between each number to watch my reaction:

“Three Things

1.) You’re very pretty

2.) Life is too short

3.) If you laugh, a kiss”

Sly boots!  He knew it would make me laugh, or give me shy giggles at best.  But it was a trap I very happily walked into.  I put my hands on his broad shoulders and planted a peck on his cheek.  He seemed so downtrodden and replied “I should have specified a kiss on the lips”.  Well who was I to argue!  I very happily obliged!

After kissing this stranger I was curious to learn more about him.  His name was Miguel, an orphan, and just like the Iranians earlier in the night, he had lived in many places around the world before settling on Barcelona.  He had worked his way up in the community to become a real estate broker who also played professional water polo.  He had a very here-and-now spirit and regardless of the fact that I was only in town for a few days, he invited me to join him at the Carneval in Stiges and “fall in love for a day”.  I hesitantly yet politely declined — there was more for me to discover.

Author’s Note: Interestingly enough, I connected with the two Iranians as well as Miguel on Facebook.  All three of them checked up on me weeks later to make sure I returned to Philadelphia safely.  We still talk to this day!

3.) I Dream of Paella

20140228_223147Paella is now my favorite meal.  Not only is it the best thing to ever happen to seafood but the style in which it is served is centered around enjoying a meal together.  For those of you who are unaware of the glory of paella, it is a hodgepodge of seafood, calasparra or bomba rice, vegetables, beans and spices.  It is served in a large skillet and is meant to be shared amongst family and friends.

The restaurant workers that served mine and Nicole’s first ever paella were kind and eager to share with us the communal spirit of the paella experience.  We were the only ones in the restaurant at the time (we were eating dinner at 9pm which was way to early for Barcelonians who usually dine between 10pm-11pm) so they gave us free wine, free appetizers and all of the olives we could eat!

Whole prawns invite playing with your food!

Whole prawns invite playing with your food!

Played with hot food and then got burned

Played with hot food and then got burned

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The list goes on!  Barcelonians are a giving people.  Check out Part 2 to read more surprises.

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