Berlin Christmas Market

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It’s still only mid-November, but that hasn’t stopped the Berliners from starting Christmas early. And it goes further than just the heaps of stollen, gingerbread, and spiced liquors in the supermarket nearby — they’ve opened a whole Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz. I’m flying out tomorrow, so Cindy, Eric, Anna, and I head out for one last adventure.

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Wow, did I mention this place was holiday-themed yet? The little wooden stalls are decked out in lights and doling out delicious winter carnival treats. There’s one doling out hot drinks, including mulled wine and spiked hot chocolates, one selling out decorated cookies, candy, and spiced nuts, and multiple selling the fried food from various cuisines. And then there’s…chili!?!

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We wander around, eating as much as possible and watching people sled down an artificial toboggan hill. We wonder aloud when we might see each other again, with Cindy and Eric bound for Amsterdam for another workshop, Anna heading home to California soon, and me flying to Boston tomorrow. I want to keep traveling, but there’s also a pull to stay in one place for a bit where I can accomplish something. That feeling comes from my lab days, as a graduate student. You can’t run PCRs and cell culture when you’re on the road — at least, not yet. But a suitcase lab and interesting questions to chase would be all I need to pack up again*.

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I’ll miss the three of them, but it’s only temporary. With friends like these, we’ll be sure to see each other again.

*Ironically, I will not be going back to the lab when I return. I have a new career waiting for me in consulting! We’ll see how it goes.

Berlin with Photography Friends

IMG_7534 We stay with Cindy and Eric and Anna in a tiny apartment in Berlin for a week, doing nothing in particular but living. The three are here working on photography books and projects and workshops, and for them this stop is just one more in a life of itinerancy. They move to new places every few months to work or think or for Eric to run a photography workshop, but everywhere they work on new projects, connect with friends, and live. Travel is merely another axis on the grid in which they live their life.

I am lucky to know the people I do, and to while away days in quiet contemplation with them. To be not going anywhere in particular, to not be thinking about the next step. Instead, we live our lives and, inspired by Cindy and Eric and Anna, make photography into art. Are we successful?

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Who cares? We are having fun.

Sights and friends in Paris

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One of the best things about Paris (for me) is that a few of my good friends from college happen to live there. We were extremely lucky to stay at their apartment right in the heart of the city, and to have them with us as guides to the city.

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There are of course the monuments we found on our own, and the city is well equipped to handle english speaking tourists. There’s no issue getting around to see all the famous sights, but it’s really for the hidden shortcuts and small alleys that you need a local with you.

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None of these are hidden or secret, though I’m sure there are those as well. For the most part, all the interesting things are right on display, you just have to know where to look. Given how many tiny shops – cheese, pastry, antique, meat, tea, everything – and how many sculptures, beautiful buildings, and above all cafes there are, a friend who has a few favorite spots is extremely helpful.

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Dinner is the other important topic. In college we gathered for “family dinner” nights, and it was a blast to do it again. Despite being in the middle of a move, my friends hosted us for a wine and food filled evening, ending in a short and happy walk back to the apartment.

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On a different night we went out and wandered into a late-night cafe/restaurant. On order were salmon pancakes – a savory shortstack in true American French fusion cuisine.

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Outside of the monuments, Paris is still a living breathing city. It’s far from perfect, and is constantly under construction.

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There’s delicious, perfectly decorated food around every corner. There really does seem to be a pastry shop on nearly every street, often more.

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Giant sculptures dot the city, and in many places they act as playgrounds, especially for tourists, but also for locals.

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Other works of art are much less interactive but no less grand.

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We’re not sure if these dancers were filming a commercial, doing a photoshoot, or putting on a show. Either way, it was one of the many interesting things going on in Paris, on a weekday at that!

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Street-long indoor galleries dot the city. Some are famous and have tours going through them, some are out of the way and filled with unknown treasures. In one of the heavily trafficked ones, a wine shop window filled our eyes with these massive wine bottles. I’ve seen comically oversized champagne bottles for events before, but I’ve never seen so many at once, and given the price tag these are no joke.

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That same gallery, and many like it, have indoor cafes! They’re cozy and in inclement weather a delightful way to spend an hour or three. While we were visiting it never really got cold or wet outside for too long, so we never saw too many people at them.

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There’s all sorts of surprises around the city. In a somewhat lonely corner near a very popular Eiffel tower vista point, we found a statue of Benjamin Franklin.

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There’s lots to see and do, the city is beautiful, and the food is great. I was thrilled to see my old friends again, and with any luck we’ll have another chance to meet in Paris! Thank you Chlo√©, Antoine, and Axel, for being such wonderful hosts!

 

Olive Oil on Brac

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Half olive oil producer, half museum, Muzej Uja (Museum Uja) is in the outskirts of Skrip, itself south of Splitska. The towns here are tiny so ‘outskirts’ means a whole five minute’s drive. It’s been in town for a long, long time, and the man who runs it told us his great grandfather had started it.

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He spent some time showing us around, pointing out interesting bits and bobs. This is the main attraction of the museum, the old fashioned olive press. It’s pushed and pulled around over and over, squeezing the olives down into pulp and oil.

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From above we got a great view of the massive stone slabs that it was made of. Quarried right here on the island no doubt. It was in use for almost 100 years, until the industrial revolution caught up in full with the oilery business and hydraulic presses replaced the old fashioned turn-wheel.

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The upstairs of the museum used to be a residence, but they turned it into a sampling room.

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The interesting part here is the piled stone roof. Nothing holds it together except pressure and the skill of the craftsman who created it. The owner told us it took forever to find someone skilled enough to repair the roof when it broke, and he thinks soon enough no one around will know how to.

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The view from up here is pretty fantastic too!

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Back downstairs, the new cold press machine takes on the duty of making olive oil for the family. They’re hoping to expand with a second machine sometime in the future, but in the meantime this is apparently as good as it gets in terms of oil presses.

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When the owner found out we were traveling around the world, he asked us to sit and eat a bit with him. Before we could even thank him, a small assortment of home made spreads was in front of us, and we were enjoying the just-around-noon sun. Thank goodness for hats. We talked for a long time about our trip, his business, it’s history and plans, his family – especially the education of his kids and their hopefully bright future. When the afternoon tour group came by, we said our goodbyes and wished each other luck and happiness. This is really the best part of traveling. Meeting people and making a connection, despite the vast distance between our lives. We hope everything goes well for Kruno and his oil museum – we’d really like to come back someday.

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P.S. The tasting is well worth it. Their olive oil is fresh and delicious, and they sell a fantastic sort of cherry liqueur that we took on with us. Plus, right outside the oilery, kittens!