Seeing Europe with my Sister

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Musee D’Orsay, overlooking the magnificent Louvre, in Paris, October 2015

I’m still dreaming about the Europe trip my sister and I took together. It is really special to travel the world with a sibling.

We encountered so many breathtaking, varied sights.. immersed in a vast range of perspectives, observed from atop hills and beneath towers, touched deeply by the breadth and depth of the human condition… encountered within arms length the glitter of luxury and the throes of the refugee crisis, traveled through air, by train, taxis and traversed on foot… enjoyed modern travel lifestyle via Uber and Airbnb, felt the joys of welcome at each border and the sting of parting places that have become special, met challenges to my patience and some petty inconveniences, debated over the dimensions of identity and allegiance… came back to my literary senses, my artistic proclivities, felt again what’s it like to step into high creativity and just be… reminisced in past experiences, lived in the present and looked forward to greater ambitions…. and humbled many, many times over by the kindness of people, the richness of our experiences, intelligent design of natural things, and guiding grace. Ours is an incredibly awesome world and let me tell you.. in it exists a place for everyone’s interests, hopes, dreams and desires to happen.. with a little magic, in abundance.. so find your place in the world and put your mark on it.

Coffee Shop Diaries

Day 14 of #KateKimEuropa2015

I’m in Berlin at this coffee shop called Buchkantine, which is at the Moabit neighborhood, just slightly north of Tiergarten, where we are staying. I fly out of Berlin tonight, while my sister had already flown back to the States this morning. She must be flying over the Atlantic right now.

So where I am at this place, a centaurian shop that is half-bookstore, half-coffeehouse. The book titles in the store are all in German, and for a moment, I desperately wished I could speak and read it.

This seems to be a popular spot for locals. It’s tucked inside a little street by the River Spree, which goes through the city. I am the only non-German here. It seems to be filled by locals Europeans or, at least, people who are fluent in German and other languages I couldn’t understand. Interestingly, even if I am foreign here, I feel somehow at home. Even if I feel that I’m different, I feel that I share something with others in this place. I don’t know what it is exactly, it could be real. Or imagined. It might be the cafe culture, or the literary culture, both of which are a substantial part of my life. It could be the pleasure of poring through magazines, or the sheer joy of being surrounded by books. Or an afternoon spent with friends and loved ones. I might feel a sense of belonging because of my proclivity toward the logic, order, lifestyle, culture, art that are the norm here.

Is belonging dependent on others welcoming you to their environment, or could you feel a sense of belonging by merely sharing the same interests as them? I doubt that it’s the former, because people are generally detached and oblivious in Berlin. I don’t feel the warmth of welcome as I do in Asia or California. But I feel like I could live in Berlin, that I could call it home if I choose to.

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Berlin at dusk

Just before coming to this cafe, I spent my afternoon on a walking tour to see the alternative side of Berlin, through the counterculture (ie. hipster) neighborhood of Kreuzberg. We looked at street art and graffiti, and I learned the difference between the two: street art is more focused on images and graphics, while graffiti is mostly text.

We saw some important landmarks in the area, such as the treehouse built by Omar Klein, which straddles East and West Berlin, and is a historically significant spot. It’s a makeshift treehouse near where the Berlin Wall once stood, and amid the fighting, separation and aftermath of war, Omar Klein turned the spot into something beautiful. He planted a community garden, which brought people together. It built community, and it was the location of peaceful demonstrations. What a great thing to do.

In this tour, I met so many people from all over the world! There were two girls from South Africa, who both speak American English, but one lives in Munich while the other lives in Amsterdam. I think they are students because they look very young. Another young pair was a couple from Brazil, who are currently living in Budapest to study. They seem to be an artistic pair, since they were dressed so. How interesting are these people we encounter when we travel!

I like these brief encounters, even if they are fleeting. I get to see, even for a moment, how others live, think and act. I get to imagine possibilities of what one could do with travel. These young kids inspire me with their energy and curiosity. They impart a bit of their braveness to follow my dreams, regardless of where I could reach it.

Train Diaries

Writing and reading on a train are some of my most favorite activities.

While on the train to Zurich…

I am on the train going to Zurich right now, on the high speed TGV train. This train goes 300 kmh/hr, so fast that we’ll get to Zurich in just a couple of hours. It is early morning, and sunrise here arrives a little later. At 9:50 am, there is light outside, albeit I can’t see the sun just yet. When I look out the window, I see fields of the countryside, cottages, and cows. There is an Indian couple next to us. The lady smiled at me when I happened to glance at them, as if to comfort us on this trip, or perhaps seeking comfort from us.

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I’m in the window seat. The woman infront of me is on her laptop, editing a presentation. From the crack between the seat back and the window, I can see the reflection of her laptop. It looks like she’s working on a plan for either human resources or international development. Some of the slides are in an Eastern European language or Greek. My observation makes me think about what life would be like if I pursued international development. To live internationally, among highly diverse coworkers, work on important issues and travel multiple countries… contributing my skills and global ideas. I’m drawn to that life, so much so that I feel it’s in the plan for me. But then again, I think about my life right now and that’s exactly what I’m doing– I live internationally, I travel in multiple places, and even if I don’t work in international development or humanitarian causes, I work in technology in a developing place where it is making a large impact in connecting people. I am living the dream, so to speak.

Traveling, especially when I’m in transit, makes me dream. The movement inspires me. I get ideas on how I can do more. When I travel, I get a sense of perspective that I can’t get anywhere else. I feel unhindered, filled with possibilities, and free.

Paris at Dawn, In Transit

Day 5 of #KateKimEuropa2015: Paris, Zurich, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, Berlin

On our last night in Paris, my sister and I went to our Airbnb apartment early to pack our bags to catch an early morning train to Zurich, Switzerland. We prepared the layers of clothes we’re planning to wear, set on the counter the toast and jam we were going to eat, made sure the clothes we hand-washed were rolled up and packed, and our electronic devices were safely stowed in our bags.

We woke up before daybreak. It had been drizzling. The alleys were quiet, the shops and galleries that were typical of our St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood wouldn’t open in another 3 hours. In this quintessential Parisian neighborhood where tourists would stroll by the Seine two blocks away and locals would discreetly move their way through streets known only to them. There was nobody to be seen, except for one or two delivery trucks slowly cruising; the sound of their engine and tires moving within earshot but their heft would only be visible every now and then. The street lamps glistened, the puddles moved softly as the drizzle prodded them. The early morning spirit of Paris’ 6th Arrondisement was absolutely serene and beautiful.

The beauty of transition physically manifested in this moment.  The watch did say it’s a new day, but the day was slow to wake up to its call. The sun was taking its time to show its face. Amid the hurried rustling of our bags in our Parisian apartment and internal deluge of thoughts as we recount our itinerary toward the next city, the morning felt no similar rush, it was unfolding as it should be at this time of the year.

These are the kind of moments that we normally don’t pay attention to when we travel, because they are mundane and uneventful. I’m sure my sister and I have missed a thousand situations that called for a slower pace, or event a quick second of attention.

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This quick shot from a camera phone isn’t saying much, it’s not a picture worth a thousand words. It, however, symbolizes a single moment in our trip. A single moment so uneventful, but somehow speaks to the many succeeding moments just like it when we found ourselves in transit to another place, city, destination, journey. It’s like a leaf so insignificant on its own but makes up a tree that makes a forest. The transitory, negligible parts of travel actually bridge the narrative of our journeys.

Living the Parisian Lifestyle

Day 4 of #KateKimEuropa2015

Paris is a city that is made up of many beautiful things to see, touch, smell, hear, taste. It is a place to indulge because all of these are within reach no matter the time or day.

You wake up in the early morning and you hear soft French music playing. Then, you go out in the streets and walk along people with such varied sense of style, but all so intriguing to to look at. You stop by a bakery, even if a tiny one with no signboard for its name outside, and the croissant you get is the best of its kind you’ve ever eaten. You walk down the street further, and you arrive by the Seine. There are more people in the streets now, all with their own unique sense of style. Also, a lot more cars are making their way into the intersections, and a number of bicycles and motorcycles appear in different directions. The sunlight is still gentle, adding a subtle glow to all that it touches.

You finally arrive at your first stop: a museum, where you plan to spend your morning. It just happens to be the Louvre, the greatest museum in the world. On your way there, you go through an expansive garden called Jardin des Tuileries, where French kings and queens used to roam around. You take a break, sitting on a ledge or bench, to admire all the sensorial experience that have befallen you thus far, and you haven’t even gotten inside the museum. After a few minutes, you make your way to the museum entrance. On your way there, you simply cross the “invisible line”, a spatial designation that connects the most important sights of Paris to each other. Then, finally, you see the entrance to the museum. Before you reach it, you are greeted by a modern architectural masterpiece that enhances the original museum bearing centuries-old foundations and containing historically significant works of art, a display of human creativity at its pinnacle.

After a full morning at the museum, you step outside and the sun is high, and it’s more pleasant to walk around, basking in all its warmth. You take a break for a sip of soda, and you chance upon a bistro by the Seine. You see the Notre Dame from where you are. Accordion music is being played somewhere nearby. Tourists are taking pictures. Friends are having mini picnics. There’s an energy abuzz. It’s probably a good idea to have lunch. You order from the menu and everything looks delicious– cheeses, baguette sandwiches, quiche, salade nicoise, or heavier options like poulet roti or coq au vin. The food tastes natural and fresh. Even the water is delicious. After lunch, you decide to take another stroll, passing by the numerous bridges that cross the Seine, vendors selling water color painting in the street, crepe and coffee stands at every corner, fountains and statues every now and then. You decide on your next stop along the way. You pass by businessmen on their phones, lanky models, old men wearing berets, teenagers with their headphones on, women with a baguette sticking out of their tote bags. No one is in a hurry.

You look up to gauge how much farther you have to walk, and there’s the Eiffel Tower on the horizon.

Being in Paris reminds me to pay more attention to the mundane, because it is extraordinary. The city invites me to live life deliberately, artfully. To immerse in art, beauty and everyday blessings.

Dabbling into French Cooking

Day 3 of #KateKimEuropa2015

I’ve been to many cooking classes before but taking a cooking class to learn classical French cooking in Paris beats them all.

We went to a cooking school by Hotel D’Ville, along the Seine. It was such a fantastic location and a perfect de-stressing activity in the evening after a whole day of walking along Champs-Elysee and doing some shopping 🙂

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The foyer at La Cuisine Paris. Look at those Parisian-inspired items!

 

 

In the class, we learned how to debone a chicken, hold a mallet to tenderize chicken, use animal membrane to hold stuffed chicken together, using the same ingredients (vegetables, herbs, mushroom, chicken broth, etc) in different ways to make multiple courses… the French do make creative use of anything and everything in their cuisine!

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Menu: salad with Dijon dressing, mushroom sauce, vegetable stuffing with Provence herbs and pine nuts, baked chicken, white wine

We got a copy of the recipes we used, and hopefully one of these days I’ll get to make a version of this at home 🙂

There were two other women in our class, a woman nutritionist from San Diego, and a flight attendant from Sydney. Our instructor is a Danish-American currently living in Paris teaching culinary arts and working at Parisian restaurants.

It was a nice hanging out and getting to know such a well-traveled and international cast of people!

Cooler in the City of Lights

Day 1 of #KateKimEuropa2015

My sister and I arrived in Paris yesterday morning. Paris is cold in October. We booked an Airbnb in the 6th Arrondisement, also known as the St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. After settling in, we rested for a few hours, then made our way a few blocks down to a French bistro, to have our first dinner in Paris.

Although it was cold, we thought it would be fun to sit outside to have our meal, in casual Parisian style. We had French onion soup and split a salad. We had some baguette, too, since we were in Paris after all. It was a laid-back Sunday night, and many of the people around us were American students studying in Paris. It seems like they were enjoying the experience; to me, studying abroad is one of the best thing any student can do before graduating.

Day 2 of #KateKimEuropa2015

Even though we were slightly jetlagged, we knew we needed to start the day early since there were so many things to see in such a limited amount of time! We signed up for a walking tour of Paris through Sandeman Tours. It was a good way (both cost- and time-efficient) to see the western part of the city.

We saw a lot of things, from fountains to churches, to parks, to rivers and bridges. We also got to experience riding the Paris metro to Palais de Chaillot, where we’ll get to see the Eiffel Tower!

Getting lost in our journey toward the Eiffel Tower: We didn’t know where to go, and had to go through some trial and error entering the wrong turnstile for the line we needed to take. Between asking our tour guide and train station employees, as well as having our maps around, we arrived at our destination: the grand Eiffel Tower.

It was actually thrilling to get lost for a period of time, because as you are trying to find the right direction, you remember certain train lines and stops which comes in handy later on. You also get to talk to locals such as train operators, passersby, sometimes store owners, all of whom help the city operate the way it does.

The Eiffel Tower is breathtaking. More than a massive structure, it is a symbol of Paris, a beacon seen at a distance in the city centre. It carries so much history, from its creation for the World Expo 1889, to its siege during WWII. On top of the Eiffel Tower, you get to see all of Paris. It is certainly the best viewpoint of Paris: Haussmanian buildings, parks in the French style, the Seine and the many bridges that intersect it, the sprawling palaces.

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View from the Eiffel Tower

After we’ve had our fill of the Eiffel Tower, we walked across the street and sat by a park area behind a mechanical carousel for kids. We saw couples sitting on a bench, kids running around, women taking a stroll, men jogging. Some dubious looking set who passed by each other in the streets to shake hands and walk away — it was odd to us that they just encountered each other, made eye contact, shook hands, and went their separate ways. We looked at them, puzzled, since even acquaintances would stop by to chitchat for even a few seconds. One of the guys looked at us suspiciously, and we realized it’s best to leave the area since it’s getting dark.

We had dinner at a Les Cocotte, as suggested by our Eiffel Tower tour guide and local Parisian Violet. It’s owned by Christian Constant, a renowed French chef who has garnered the Michelin star. The restaurant is very small, and can only accommodate a handful of people. We came at the right time and were seated by the door– not the greatest table, but at least we got one! The ambiance is casual, yet modern and sophisticated. Food is pricey, but delicious and top-notch even with its proximity to the Eiffel Tower and its tourist traps. Perfect for a dinner with friends, family or even for date night.

 

 

Here are some of the sights we saw in our walking tour, which is a typical tour for first time Paris travelers:

  • Fontaine St. Michel
  • Notre Dame
  • Palais Justice
  • River Seine
  • Pont Neuf
  • Academie Francaise
  • Louvre
  • Tuileries
  • Obelisk
  • Axe Historique
  • Henry IV Statue