BRB

It’s been more than a month since our last blog post and I can’t help but feel guilty for abandoning our baby so quickly. Miri and I recently moved out of my family home and into our dream apartment five minutes away from the water in Alameda. This is our first ever apartment together (although we mostly lived together in Vienna, we still maintained separate addresses) and while it is more than exciting, it is also more than enough work for two people. The picture frames around the apartment still hold the black-and-white photos they came with of a pretend bride and groom, holding hands and kissing. I like to point these pictures out when we have friends over and ask them if they like our wedding pictures. Unpacked boxes still sit on the floor of our bedroom, begging to be disposed of. There are no pictures on the walls, yet, and our balcony, despite having a fair number of potted plants, still lacks a table with chairs. On top of all of that, I’ve been spending every weekend of the past month helping my mom move stuff out of our house so that she can start renting it out in June.

I wish I were the type of person to find busyness motivating. You know the type I mean? These people are so highly-productive that they don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when they don’t have a thousand items to cross off in their weekly calendars. They thrive under pressure, love competition, and become increasingly productive the more they load onto their already overflowing plates. Alas, I’m the type that freezes rather than flourishes under pressure. When I have a long list of things to do, all I want to do is just curl up in a ball on the couch and watch TV. I guess you could call this my sad attempt at ignoring work into nonexistence. So far this hasn’t been a very successful strategy. Once I feel like I have to do something, I immediately don’t want to do it even when I genuinely enjoy what I feel like I have to do. Isn’t that strange? This is sort of what happened with the blog. It quickly went from being something I was doing for fun to something I felt I had to do (i.e. not fun), so I started procrastinating writing new blog posts to the point that I almost stopped thinking about the blog at all. I am constantly amazed at my inane ability to dissuade myself from doing the things that make me happiest. You know how they say “You are your only limit”? It’s true. I really am my biggest limitation.

In addition to my general laziness, if that’s what you’d call my adept knack of stunting my own progress, I find myself wondering why I’m even bothering with this blog. Aren’t blogs inherently narcissistic? Shouldn’t I be somewhat embarrassed for even writing one? I have the feeling I’m shouting “Look at me! Look at me!” into a black hole in the vast and ever-expanding space of the Internet, only no one is there to hear my vain cries for recognition because I’m in space and everyone knows there is no sound in space. Is there actually anyone out this reading this besides my mom? (Hi Mom!) Wait…does my mom even read my blog? Do I care too much to start with? This question makes me think of a picture quote I came across on Instagram the other day that read: “People used to keep diaries and would get mad when anybody read them. Now, we post stuff online and get mad when people DON’T read it.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Am I one of THOSE people now? The thought makes me shudder.

I originally started this blog because I wanted to bring my love of photography, travel and writing to life. I have SO many pictures from all my travels that I’ve done absolutely nothing with and it feels like such a waste to just let them sit there. I constantly browse through other people’s blogs and travel photos on Instagram and every time I do I can’t help but think I could be doing the same thing just as well, if not better than many of these people. The only difference I could discern between them and me was that they were actually doing it while I was over here sitting on my bum, criticizing them for even trying, and even arrogantly assuming that I could do it better. Yeesh. This thought makes me think of another relevant quote: “Be an encourager. The world has plenty of critics already.” I don’t want to be a critic. I want to be a doer. I want to be someone who tries and who also encourages other to try. After all, I would rather try and fail than never try at all.  Starting this blog has been a humbling experience simply because I realize how insignificant my blog actually is. I know I can take good pictures, but are my pictures so good that are instantly recognizable and distinctively stand apart from the tens of thousands of travel photos posted on Instagram every day? No. No, they are not. But here’s the thing: realizing and embracing this fact has led me to my real path and the ultimate mission of this blog. What is it that I can do better than anyone else? What can I do that nobody else can? Tell my story. Tell our story. I have this feeling in my gut that I was always meant to share our story, long before I knew what the story would be. It’s a true story of true love—the story of how my husband and I fell in love with each other while falling in love with the world. But I don’t want to just give away our story on our blog, which is why I’m going to be taking a break from the blog to spend less time editing pictures and more time writing.

We’ll come back to the blog, eventually, but for now, you can follow us on Instagram if you’d like to continue seeing pictures of our travels: https://www.instagram.com/theadventuresofkaefer/

Bye for now!

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Apartment Hunting

Our apartment hunt has officially commenced. Miri and I have been spending the past few weekends looking at one and two-bedroom apartments in Alameda, an island in the San Francisco Bay adjacent to Oakland. I took Miri to Alameda for dinner the very first time he came to visit me in California in August 2012 and you can say he’s sort of fallen in love with this small but charming community ever since. The thought of leaving San Leandro to live in Alameda is more than exciting. Miri and I have been in San Leandro ever since we moved here from Austria (I returned to my hometown  in July 2015 and he emigrated in October 2015). My mom moved to Mill Valley before Miri’s arrival, but she’s allowed us to live here on our own until we both found jobs (which, happily, we have) before she retires and rents the house. It’ll be strange to not have a home-base in San Leandro, but at this point there’s not much keeping us here. My mom is in Marin, my brother is in Walnut Creek, and my dad, who lived a block away from us, passed seven years ago. I am very grateful to my mom for having given us a place to live rent-free until we were able to stand on our own two (or four?) feet,  but I will happily give it up to begin our next chapter (and join the real world) as husband and wife paying an extortionate amount to live in the Bay Area. The day documented below mostly consists of food, beginning with Sushi House in Alameda and ending with Lake Chalet, a renovated boathouse-turned-restaurant with a fantastic view of Oakland’s Lake Merritt, where we enjoyed a plentiful Easter dinner. Lake Merritt is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area. I grew up coming here a lot because Fairyland, a storybook theme park for children, is located within the park, but also because of the superior number of high-quality restaurants surrounding the Lake in contrast to San Leandro’s dismal dining choices.

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Seaweed salad, a must-have when ordering sushi.

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Vegetable maki (black mushroom, avocado, cucumber and lettuce).

 

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The Super Prawn roll, consisting of shrimp tempura, cucumber, crab meat, lettuce, green onions, Ebi, avocado, special house sauce, kiwi sauce and black Tobiko. Yum.

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The Lion King roll,  my favorite “fatty’s delight” at any American sushi restaurant.  The Lion King is your basic California roll, topped with baked salmon and the special house sauce. Drool. Side note: I’m a fake sushi fan because the only kind of sushi I really like are baked or cooked rolls, often topped with rich sauces. This is embarrassingly American, but, what can I say, it’s a texture thing.IMG_2663IMG_2667 IMG_2671

Wandering around the Crab Cove Visitor Center and the Alameda shoreline where, fingers crossed, I will soon be enjoying my daily, er every-other-daily, run.

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Lake Merritt/Downtown Oakland is just a short, 10-minute drive from Alameda.

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We started with the Organic Mixed Greens salad at Lake Chalet. It is made up of local, organic farm greens, orange segments, Asian pears, Laura Chenel goat cheese and candied pumpkin seeds, dressed lightly with Sherry vinaigrette.

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I ordered the Grand Seafood Linguini, which was superb. It is made up of Saffron pasta, Gulf shrimp, Bay scallops, mussels, clams, salmon, Monterey Bay calamari, tomatoes, and white wine.

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Miri ordered the Herb-Marinated Flatiron Steak, topped with caramelized shallots and Porcini mushroom butter, along with a side of Potato Gratin.

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My mom ordered the Key Lime Pie in a Jar for dessert, which I couldn’t resist photographing.

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Miri and I decided on the Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding, which was so good I almost regretted sharing it. It was topped with caramelized bananas, white chocolate Ganache, whipped Chantilly, and shaved dark chocolate.

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Lastly, my cousin ordered the Gluten-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with chocolate sauce and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It’s hard to write about a dessert you never tried, but damn does it look good.

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My favorite time of day to take pictures.

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Easter in Vienna

Easter in Vienna is something else. Traditional Easter Markets are set up in March, where you can enjoy live music and Austrian culinary treats, such as a variety of Wurst (sausages), Käsespätzle (the German/Austrian version of macaroni and cheese, made of homemade egg noodles and emmental cheese, topped with crispy fried onions), and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings). Artfully hand-painted Easter eggs are set up in beautiful displays for sale, among other adorable decorations. Easter, next to Christmas, has always been my favorite holiday because of its sheer cuteness — I’m a sucker for pastels, flowers, baby bunnies, chicks, and lambs. I love that Vienna carries on its market tradition through spring, providing a nice alternative to the Christmas markets that begin the holiday season in late November.

I was lucky enough to spend two Easters in Vienna in 2014 and 2015 and visited three of the five Easter markets hosted in the city.

Ostermark Schloss Schönbrunn | Schönbrunn Palace Easter Market

The Schönbrunn Palace Easter Market is arguably the most romantic Easter market because of its stunning palace backdrop. I came here with Miri and my brother, Kevin, who visited Vienna in April 2014 before the two of us took a trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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Kevin and me in front of the giant Easter egg.

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Cuteness overload.

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Miri and me in front of the Palace.

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Beautiful wisteria in bloom.

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Looking up at the Gloriette, which was built in 1775 was and Empress Maria Theresia’s favorite spot because of its splendid view of Vienna.

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Looking down at Vienna from the Gloriette.

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Miri, Kevin and me.

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Altwiener Ostermarkt auf der Freyung | Old Vienna Easter Market at the Freyung

The Freyung Easter Market is probably my favorite Easter market because of its astonishing tower of eggs, apparently the largest in Europe with more than 40,000 handpainted eggs, located in the heart of the 1st District. I often passed by this square on my way to work, which was about a 10-minute walk from my apartment at the time.

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For those of you who haven’t read the “About Us” section on our homepage, the nickname Käfer (German for bug) came about when Miri and I first started dating. We were at a thermal spring in Bad Krozingen, Germany when Miri teased that I kept latching onto him “wie ein Wasserkäfer” (like a waterbug). At first, I was insulted, but the name stuck and you’ll rarely hear us call each other by our first names to this day. We’re always on the lookout for our ladybug symbol 🙂

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“Easter Egg Stand at the Freyung”

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Ostermarkt am Hof | Am Hof Handicraft Market

The Am Hof Handicraft Market is just around the corner from the Freyung and hosts numerous stands which sell artisan trinkets, foods, wines, and, of course, Easter eggs.

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Miri and my father-in-law, Frank.

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No trip to Vienna is complete without a ride, or at least picture, of the Fiaker, Vienna’s iconic horse-drawn carriages.

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Wandering around Café Central, the legendary literati coffeehouse where authors and intellectuals such as Arthur Schnitzler, Adolf Loos, and Peter Altenberg were regulars.

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Vienna is full of beautiful old streets like this one.

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In front of the Spanish Riding School at Michaelerplatz, where tourists go to watch the world-famous, UNESCO-protected Lippizan ballet. Lippizan horses are white stallions which are trained for years to dance in perfect harmony with the classical music that resounds within the baroque Imperial Palace during gala performances.

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Looking at the Rathaus, city hall, from within the Volksgarten.

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My favorite part about this picture is the classic Viennese woman behind me. It’s like two different eras are colliding in one.

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In front of the the Austrian Parliament building.

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Lastly, pictures of the beautiful pink blossoms in Stadtpark, the city park across the street from the school where I taught English.

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Marin Headlands & the Golden Gate Bridge

It’s hard for me to describe the joy and excitement I felt when taking these pictures. Nothing makes me feel as alive as documenting a place, whether new or old, through the lens of my camera. I know photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge at twilight are nothing revolutionary–we’ve all seen shots of the bridge just like these on postcards and in books–but this doesn’t bother me. I love the challenge of trying to recreate iconic images myself. I don’t have a lot of fancy equipment or lenses, but I do have a good camera, a steady tripod, and an eye for recreating images that, at first, may seem out-of-reach for an amateur photographer. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to come out here considering the fact that I’m a Bay Area native and my mom lives in Mill Valley, a 15-minute drive away from this stunning view of the most recognizable bridge in the world.

Twilight has always been my favorite time of day to shoot. I love watching the light change from sunset to the small window of time when city lights begin twinkling against cerulean blue skies before the last bit of natural light is enveloped in darkness. Of course, you can take gorgeous pictures of the bridge during the day, but isn’t the shot at twilight so much more compelling? It was also hard-earned. I made poor Miri wait in the car with me for about an hour-and-a-half until I got the lighting I wanted. This wasn’t the first time I tested his patience for a photograph. When we were in Cinque Terre in July 2014, he sat in the dirt with me at the top of a hill for three hours, all without complaining, so that I could get pictures of Vernazza at twilight. God bless his easy-going soul.

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We were worried before making the trip over that we might not be able to see the bridge due to Karl, San Francisco’s ubiquitous fog. We lucked out as only part of the bridge was covered, which I think made the scene even more atmospheric (and authentic). Taking a picture of the bridge on a clear day is like photographing Ireland on a sunny day. It happens but it’s not quite right.

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My ever-happy, ever-helpful photo assistant and model carrying the tripod for me 🙂 Man, I love him.

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Tourists gathering at one of several Golden Gate Bridge lookout points along the Marin Headlands drive.

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Beautiful Silver Bush Lupine growing along the side of the road just in time for the first day of spring.

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Franciscan Paintbrush in bloom.

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Karl rolling in.

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Look back at it.

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Sticky Monkeyflower. What a name.

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We stopped for dinner at Tamalpie, a pizzeria on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley that I appreciate for its name, a clever allusion to Mount Tamalpais, which towers over the small, affluent and outdoorsy community. I ditched all thoughts of “eating healthily” and we shared two mouthwatering pizzas (“I do it for the gram“). Miri chose the Railroad Grade pizza, topped with pepperoni, roasted peppers and onions, tomato and mozzarella. I opted for the Blithedale Canyon pizza, made up of an enticing combination of bacon, potato, mozzarella, fontina and pesto. Miri was really excited (I mean, just look at his face) about the fact that the crust was thin and crunchy, which is how pizza is prepared in Vienna, in contrast to the fat, doughy crusts you get when ordering pizza delivery in the U.S. from chains like Domino’s or Round Table. Anyway, I warned you that I’m not a food critic so I’m just going to end this post by saying the pizzas were reeeeal good. Hopefully, I get better at restaurant reviews the more we do this. Thanks for bearing with me and continuing to read until then 😉 Question for you: What kind of food would you like to see me attempt to review next?

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Desco Oakland

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I never really saw home until I left it. Home for me is the Bay Area. I was born in Oakland and grew up in San Leandro, a suburban city of about 90,000 people in between Oakland and Hayward on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. When people ask me where I’m from, however, I tend to just say the Bay Area/East Bay because, when you’re from the Bay, you can’t really claim that only one city raised you. (Unless you’re from San Francisco. San Franciscans love to brag about being San Franciscans.) My family was always moving around. We may have lived in San Leandro, but I was practically raised in Children’s Fairyland on the shores of Lake Merritt and in Knowland Park at the Oakland Zoo. My mom dragged my brother and me to her church in downtown Berkeley on Sundays and most special occasions were celebrated in San Francisco. There’s not much to do in San Leandro, so my weekends in high school were spent roaming Shattuck and Telegraph Ave, trying on overpriced second-hand clothes in vintage boutiques, wandering around College Ave and Rockridge, spending the babysitting money I’d earned on hot chocolates and books, and dressing up and taking BART to San Francisco to stage photo shoots and take MySpace selfies, long before the word “selfie” existed. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived high school without BART.

In the eyes of teenage me, the Bay Area was just…the Bay Area. San Leandro was certainly nothing special or worth bragging about. Like so many of my peers, I didn’t yet understand the privilege of growing up in such a culturally diverse and physically beautiful area and I took it for granted because I didn’t know any better.

When I was in high school, I was desperate to leave San Leandro. I rebelled against the loud rap music that pervaded the halls of my high school and opted instead for the for the softer sounds of Belle & Sebastian, Architecture in Helsinki, Mates of State, Arcade Fire, and Camera Obscura, among many other indie bands. With the exception of one friend at school, nobody around me listened to the same kind of music I did and it made me feel unique. I was never the type that blended in with everyone else, but I also didn’t try to mark my “difference” outwardly by, say, dying my hair purple. I’m not an attention seeker,  so the ways in which I marked my individuality were more subtle.

I used to make my best friend have “dress days” with me at school. I would call her up the night before to ask her to wear a dress the next day so that I wouldn’t be the only one wearing one. I’m being completely serious. There was a time when literally NO ONE wore dresses to school. I was still young and naive enough to think that my classmates not only payed attention to what I wore but judged me for it. I actually kept track of my outfits each day of the week, God forbid I wear the same thing too soon thereafter. I eventually realized that all the time I spent worrying about what others were thinking about me was completely wasted because everyone was too busy worrying about themselves to be paying any attention to me.

When I was 17, I dreamt of moving to Boston and going to college on the East Coast. I dreamt of mature college boyfriends (LOL) who read the same books and listened to the same music as I. I ended up settling on Scripps College, one of the five Claremont Colleges east of Los Angeles, after my dad died the spring of my senior year. Moving across the country would have been too big of an upset to my already tempestuous emotional state. Going to school in Southern California was at least far away enough from home to make me feel like I was experiencing something new and it was close enough to fly or drive home for holidays. Scripps was a familiar name in my household–I received my first Scripps sweatshirt when I was 12–my mom’s partner, and now, wife went to Scripps (c/o ’66) and was an active member of the Board of Trustees and the Alumnae Association. Lori is the perfect example of a Scrippsie: strong, smart, independent, fearless, and bold. She is not someone afraid to speak her mind. I admired that. I was excited to attend a college where empowering women to be leaders is the founding mission.

The funny thing, is as soon as I got to college, my desire in “discovering” cool new indie bands reached a standstill. What had set me apart at San Leandro High made me just like everybody else at the Claremont Colleges. The majority of rich white kids that populated the consortium of five colleges were terribly pretentious when it came to music. I met people who liked the same alternative/indie music I did, but I learned pretty quickly never to reveal my favorite bands lest they begin fact-bombing or quizzing me about the history of the band or, better yet, “humbly” bragging about the times they had seen so-and-so perform live at Sasquatch, Bumbershoot AND Coachella in the same year. (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but I think you get my point.) I had no interest in partaking in competitive back-and-forth exchanges to validate my coolness. I know I’m cool. Whether or not you realize that is on you; I don’t seek your approval nor will I ever try to convince you to be my friend *flips hair.* Can’t I just like a song without caring about the artist’s life story?

Attending Scripps College was the first time in my life I was at a school where not only white people but RICH white people were the overwhelming majority of the student body. It was weird for me. I felt for the few minority students, including my two roommates from India and Japan, even if, at first glance, many of these WOC put me in the same box as these rich white girls from privileged white suburbs. I might be white, but San Leandro is definitely NOT a rich white suburb and I was never given entry to these cool white girl cliques. First of all, I wasn’t skinny or pretty enough to fit in, which is pretty much the first requirement of being a cool white girl. Some friend groups looked so similar I swear watching them was like seeing slightly different versions of the same person going about. It makes me think of Taylor Swift and her #SquadGoals. On social media, these cool girls constantly praised each other’s beauty with comments like, “You are a radiant sunshine goddess;” “PERFECT HUMAN BEING;” “omg i love uuu;” or, my favorite, “OBSESSED.” I guess I shouldn’t be so critical of women attempting to build each other up with bouts of external praise and validation, but weren’t we supposed to be learning at a women’s college that true validation can only be sought within? Why wasn’t anyone teaching us that our physical appearance and even intelligence are absolutely insignificant in comparison to how kind we are? I guess I was most annoyed by the fact that the only physical appearance being actively “built up” was that the cool white girls. It might not have bothered me so much if this kind of praise was being showered equally on us big girls and WOC at Scripps, who not only didn’t fit the “skinny white girl” mold, but didn’t want to. I digress…

In this new and unfamiliar environment, I returned to rap and hip hop because it was comforting. It was home. I didn’t realize how much I loved rap until I was surrounded by people who openly despised it for being demeaning to women. I won’t deny the objectification and misogyny that is pretty rampant in the genre, but to generalize an entire body of music is just ignorant.

I remember being called “hood” by friends I’d made at Scripps and my study abroad programs, all of whom were wowed by my effortless ability to memorize rap verses. I would just laugh and think to myself “DO YOU SEE ME IN THIS SUNDRESS?” I thought of how my high school classmates would roar in laughter if they heard someone calling me “hood” because at home you couldn’t get much whiter than me. I see now that there are people so cut off from contact with POC that a white person like me seems ethnic in comparison. This scares me.

You might be reading this and wondering what the hell any of this has to do with the above pictures. You’re not wrong for wondering. Bear with me, I’m getting there. I guess what my exceedingly long tangent is trying to get at is that, for me, the best part about having left home for 6 years–during which I spent three years in Southern California and three in Europe–was that I returned home in July 2015 with new eyes and a new appreciation of where I’m from. This transformation mostly occurred when I was living abroad, but it started in college, when I realized, like Dorothy, that I wasn’t in my urban version of Kansas anymore.

I don’t think it’s possible for people to truly “see” their culture until they immerse themselves in a foreign one. If you’re American, you don’t even necessarily have to leave the United States to do this. Immersion for me begins with learning a new language. Having a Mexican friend isn’t enough to claim you’re “immersed” in Mexican-American culture, but learning to speak Spanish and actually talking to Mexican-Americans in their native language brings you one step closer. I don’t speak Spanish (yet), but I did learn to speak fluent German.

My German professor in college told us that when you learn a new language, it’s like a person hands you a key to a door you were never able to open before. He was completely right. It’s exhilarating. Once you get over the initial shyness and embarrassment of making mistakes when speaking a foreign language, you discover the gratifying joy of speaking to people you couldn’t communicate with before.

In October, I was riding home from work on BART when two German girls sat in front of me. This wasn’t the first time I had heard German since returning home from Austria, but this time I decided I’d actually strike up a conversation with them. I didn’t have anything to lose. It turned out one of the girls was married to an American and lived in San Leandro. I couldn’t believe it. MY San Leandro??? This coincidence was too big to ignore and I gave her my number even though I knew this whole interaction would raise a thousand warning flags if one were to do the same thing in Germany. I’m happy I did–that German girl and her husband are now good friends of ours–the kind of friends where you feel like you’ve known them for much longer than you actually have.

The best way I’ve found of coping with living in my hometown again–an obvious downgrade from Vienna–has been by exploring it and the greater Bay Area as if I were an outsider. A lot has changed in the Bay Area in the last six years, thanks (and no thanks) to the tech boom, but don’t get me started on that. This blog is my motivation to get out of the house and never stop exploring. Playing “local tourist” is almost as much fun as being an actual tourist.

Now, the pictures. Miri and I decided to start off the first of our restaurant series with Desco, an Italian restaurant on 9th Street in Downtown Oakland. Miri and I couldn’t believe it when we came across this restaurant–“Desco” is my mother-in-law’s nickname, which Miri and his twin deemed her when they were children. Little did any of us know, the word translates to “dinner table” in Latin, which makes perfect sense for a restaurant (and, actually, for Desco the person, seeing as she’s an excellent cook). The building dates back to 1876 and part of the original tile flooring still remains. The restaurant’s ambience is warm and almost European. We made our reservation online and were seated in the back corner of the restaurant, tucked away from the wind on this rainy Thursday in March.

Miri and I both ordered the Tagliata NY Steak–his prepared rare and mine prepared medium–served with baby potatoes, rucola salad, and volcanic salt. I’m not much of a food critic, but I thought it was delicious. For dessert, we ordered the panna cotta and warm chocolate cake with coffee sauce.

We are eager to come here again with Miri’s parents when they visit in September. Maybe sharing the same name as the restaurant is worthy of a free dessert 😉

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Day 2: Exploring the Hamakua Coast

As I look through the photographs of our second day in Hawaii, I am reminded, again, of the incredible ecological variation and diversity of one of the most remote archipelagos on Earth. The Big Island alone boasts 8 of the world’s 13 climate zones. It’s hard to believe you can go from visiting waterfalls in lush, tropical jungles, to sandy beaches and shallow, sand-bottomed ocean pools, to the summit of a volcano 14,000 feet above sea level all in the same day. Of all the places I’ve ever been, Hawaii is by far the most exhilarating.

We started our first full day off on the earlier side — for once a positive benefit of jet lag with Hawaii being three hours behind California. We awakened to the sounds of birds singing various cheerful songs and watched the sunrise lay a warm blanket of golden light over the luxuriant jungle greens surrounding the Hamakua House, our accommodation in Pepeekeo, a small town north of Hilo.

The day’s adventure started as soon as we left the house–in order to get to and from the Hamakua House, you have to drive down a rocky, dirt road and then through a jungle before reaching the nearest town of Honomu. We stopped for breakfast each morning at Mr. Ed’s Bakery in this small, wild-west-feeling town, which was included with our booking. This drive was actually one of the highlights of the stay for Miri and me. We couldn’t help but feel like we were on the Jungle Cruise or the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland when driving down the jungle road, often stopping the car to look up at the vines hanging down from the trees, turning off the radio to tune in to the wonderfully harmonious symphony of the jungle.

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After eating breakfast, we made the 10-minute drive from Honomu to Akaka Falls State Park, where a short, paved trail loop leads you through a beautiful rainforest rich with wild orchids, bamboo groves, ferns, and other exotic plants. On the path, you pass by 100-foot Kahuna Falls before reaching Akaka Falls, the most visited waterfall on the Big Island where you can watch 442-feet of stunningly beautiful water cascade down into a moss-covered gorge.

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Our next stop was the Four Mile Scenic Drive, also known as the Old Mamalahoa Highway, just off of Highway 19 in Pepeekeo. Much like the road leading to our accommodation, this beautiful drive takes you through the jungle and then along the coast, where you can stop to take pictures of the postcard-like view over Onomea Bay. The drive passes by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Papaikou, a nonprofit nature sanctuary which is home to more than 2,000 species of plants, including countless, colorful genera of orchids, palm trees, and more. This “museum of living plants” is a must-see for photographers and nature lovers.

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Do you spot anything unusual on this leaf? 🙂

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Miri becoming “one” with nature.

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Before grabbing a Hawaiian fast food lunch at Liko Lehua Cafe in Hilo, we visited Rainbow (Waiānuenue) Falls, tallying our third waterfall of the day. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to capture the rainbow that can be seen in the mist thrown up by the waterfall on sunny mornings. Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess, is said to live in the lava cave behind the waterfall.

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Not knowing where to go next, we consulted our Lonely Planet book and decided to check out Onekahakaha Beach Park just south of downtown Hilo. This beach park, in particular, is popular among families because the sand-bottomed cove is protected from ocean swells by a large boulder break. Watching powerful waves crash into the rocks while swimming in still, shallow waters was riveting. I felt like I was finally realizing my childhood dream of becoming a mermaid. However, the best part about this beach park was that we got to swim alongside sea turtles!!! I could hardly contain my excitement when I noticed these beautiful sea creatures peacefully grazing the ocean floor, coming up to the surface every so often for air. There is something so majestic about the honu, one of the few species on earth that has been swimming in the ocean alongside DINOSAURS for 150 million years. According to ancient Hawaiian legend, the green sea turtles were the first to guide the Polynesians to the Hawaiian islands, earning the respected status and symbol of the navigator that is always able to find its way home. In real life, honu swim hundreds of miles to lay their eggs on the very beach where they were born. I can hardly find my way home using GPS.

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After drying off, we agreed a mini road trip was in order and set off for Maunakea, a dormant volcano almost 14,000 feet above sea level, to watch the sunset. In true ignorant-tourist fashion, we were completely oblivious of how high up the summit is and realized upon reaching the Maunakea Visitor Information Station that our 2WD rental car hadn’t the slightest chance at making it to the top without risking serious damage to the car. After driving all the way here to see the sunset, we were determined to find a way up. We came across a friendly-looking couple and asked if we could pay them to take us to the top. They agreed without hesitation or wariness at giving two complete strangers a lift in the backseat of their rental Jeep. It’s moments like this that I think “God Bless, Americans” for being so dang nice. I can’t imagine mustering up the courage in Austria to ask the same thing in German. It ended up being more fun tagging along with Sharon and Todd than if we had gone alone. They were visiting from Portland and were staying on the Big Island for the same 9 days we were to celebrate Todd’s birthday, just as Miri and I came here to celebrate his (well, that and our second honeymoon). My only regret is that I forgot to take their picture!

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“If no can…no can.” My new favorite catchphrase.

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Driving on Saddle Road, en route to Maunakea.

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Looking down on the Maunakea Vistitor Information Station from a hill across the way.

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Before Sharon and Todd kindly gave us a ride, Miri and I went on a short hike directly across from the visitor center, fortuitously allowing our bodies to adjust to the altitude. At the visitor center, you’re already 9,200 ft above sea level. But, as I mentioned earlier, we didn’t actually realize how high up we were until later, so I just attributed my wheezing and panting to being terribly out of shape. We were the only ones out here and I wanted to sit and meditate for a few minutes to take it all in. I can’t describe the incredible, elevating peace I felt here. In those minutes of silence, I felt I understood why this land is sacred to Hawaiians. I could’ve sat there all day, listening to nothing but the sound of the wind blowing by. It’s in these places of silence and solitude, away from the busyness of life, that I feel I can best tune into the presence of God or a Higher Power: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10); “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (David; Psalm 23:1-3).

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Making our way up above the clouds to the top of the summit.

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One thing I forgot to mention — it was FREEZING (30°F) up here! By the time I finished taking pictures of the sunset over the fake cloud horizon, my hands, feet, and legs were completely numb. When there’s snow, people actually come up here to snowboard. Can you think of anyplace else in the world where you can go from surfing to snowboarding in less than 2 hours? Amazing.

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Practically starving by the time we made the trip down the summit and back to civilization, we stopped for dinner at Pineapples, a charming open air restaurant with live music in downtown Hilo, before calling it a night. Miri and I both ordered the Teriyaki Flank Steak, a mouth-watering marinated steak served with grilled pineapple, vegetable stir-fry, a choice of Jasmine rice or garlic potato mash, drizzled with Teriyaki beurre blanc (don’t ask me what that is), and, finally, topped with crispy fried onions and pineapple salsa. It was, for me, one of the more memorable meals of the trip.

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Dreams of My Father

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately as the seventh year anniversary of his passing approaches. As many of you know, I decided to study German in college and spend my third year abroad in Austria and Germany because of my dad, Gene Bryant.

My dad was stationed in the army in Austria in the 50s (a trick of fate that he didn’t get sent to fight in the Korean War), and there cultivated his life-long love for the Germanic culture, with its history, classical music and opera, Bratwurst and Bier. As a kid, I poured over my dad’s army photos, fascinated by pictures of my youthful, confident father and his army friends taking on Europe. These pictures showed my dad as a young man I never knew (he was 58 when I was born) and a very interesting Europe that was in the process of rebuilding itself after the war. My dad never became fluent in German, but, fifty years after being stationed in Austria, he still studied his German books, teaching me such useful words as: Schweinhund, an insult that literally translates to “pig dog,” and Mach schnell, hurry up. When my dad passed away during the spring of my senior year of high school, I returned to his army photos and felt this incredible urge, maybe even compulsion, to visit the places in the photographs and learn to speak German. However, I was not prepared to meet my husband, the man who would turn my world upside down and who would mark a before and after in my life.

Looking at his pictures, today, I am stunned by the fact that I not only recognize but also know so many of the places he photographed. What was once an intangible dream–living in Europe like my dad–became a reality for three years and will remain an ever-present memory. I can only imagine what it was like when my dad was there in the 50s. He never liked to talk much about the army, although it’s pretty safe to assume looking at his pictures that he’d had a good time. I think it made him sad that he didn’t keep in touch with any of his friends after they got out. I remember prodding him once about it when I was 15. I got him to agree to let me use an online search engine to look up a few of his old comrades. Fifty years had passed since he had spoken to any of them. I managed to find the phone number of one of his friends in Chicago, whose name I can no longer remember. I shared the news with my dad excitedly. But it turned out we were too late. My dad called and his friend’s wife informed him that his friend had passed a few years prior. That was the first and last attempt my dad made at contacting anyone.

Reflecting on everything that has happened in my life, I see the truth in the saying, “Sometimes the bad things in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” When my dad died almost seven years ago, I never would have imagined that this tragic loss would somehow put me on the path to finding my future husband. As a photographer, I guess it’s fitting that my dad’s photographs were what inspired me to move across the world and learn a foreign language, thus falling in love with a Slovakian-born, Austrian accountant in the process. 

In short, the worst thing I’ve experienced in life has directly led me to the best thing to ever happen to me. Without my dad’s passing, I have no idea whether I would’ve chosen to study abroad in Austria or if Miri and I ever would have found each other and fallen in love. The universe works in mysterious ways and although I miss my dad terribly and will never stop feeling the pain of his loss, I still thank God for the seventeen years we had together and for turning a tragedy into a blessing by connecting my soul to Miri’s. Love is the most powerful force in the world and it will change your life, if only you let it.

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Day 1: Welcome to the Big Island

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I’m going to begin this post by stating the obvious: Hawaii is paradise. My first time visiting the Hawaiian Islands was with my dad back in 2006. The two of us traveled to Maui, where I spent most of my time lying on the beach desperately trying to get tan so that I could go back home and, for once, not be the whitest of my friends.

Ten years later, Miri and I decided the Big Island would be the perfect place to spend our second honeymoon (I’ll explain that later). The inspiration for our trip actually came from the Pixar short “Lava” (2014) which was released alongside the feature film “Inside Out” in June 2015. This was not the first time Miri and I chose a vacation destination after seeing a movie–our trip to Bruges (and subsequent engagement) in November 2014 was inspired by the 2008 film aptly titled “In Bruges.” Anyway, for those of you who have seen the Pixar short, you know it is about about two lonely volcanoes searching for someone to “lava.” I was unsuccessful in trying not to cry during those five minutes. The song, reminiscent of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over the Rainbow,” was just too damn sweet. After all, at the end of the day, aren’t we all searching for someone to hear our song?

We touched down at Kona International Airport on February 9th at around noon. The “aloha spirit” hit me like a wave as soon as I got off the plane. I felt my worries lift from my shoulders and I was in such a good mood it was almost scary. It’s hard to stay stressed out in a place where you are greeted by a beautiful statue of hula dancers in an airport terminal that is OUTSIDE because the weather is just that good.

After picking up our rental car, we stopped in Waikoloa Village (about 25 miles north of the airport) to have lunch. I was starting to get “hangry” so we chose Tropics Ale House because it had relatively good Yelp reviews and it was the closest thing nearby. As soon as we sat down, Miri started getting texts from his brother, Eddie, informing us that the Island of Hawaii just declared a state of emergency due to more than 250 reported cases of Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne disease that causes painful and debilitating symptoms, including fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting, among other things.

Miri and I locked eyes, both of us realizing in dread that our honeymoon and so-called trip to paradise might be over before it had even started. To be fair to Hawaii, however, it’s important to note that mosquitoes were brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Europeans in 1826. Over the next 150 years, at least four more species were introduced. So, we can thank Europe for that…

I tried to stay positive after hearing the potentially-trip-stopping news and focused on the delicious fish tacos I had ordered, which were served with seared Hawaiian fish, fresh pineapple salsa, chopped cabbage, cilantro and chipotle aioli. Miri ordered a Kalua pork sandwich, but, judging from the number of times he asked for a bite of one of my tacos, it’s safe to assume I ordered the better of the two dishes.

Our worries were assuaged by the map my mom sent us showing that the high risk areas for Dengue Fever were mostly on the west coast of the island. We were on our way to Pepeekeo, a small area north of Hilo on the east coast of the island, with fewer than 2,000 residents and no reported cases of the fever. We decided to spend four nights in this remote area after coming across the Hamakua Guest House on Booking.com.

Miri and I are not resort people. When we travel, we try as much as we can to get a “real” feel of the place we’re staying and an authentic glimpse into the culture. We try to live like the locals, which means avoiding highly-popular and, in my opinion, overpriced package deals at big resorts like the plague. When we came across this very reasonably-priced, off-the-grid accommodation with solar panel electricity and a water tank, we knew it was the one.

However, getting there was a little tricky and after bouncing down a rocky, dirt road for about ten minutes before reaching the house, we started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. The house is surrounded by jungle and is, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. The nearest restaurants are about a 20-minute-drive away in Hilo.

Nonetheless, as soon as we arrived we were giddy with excitement to be staying at such a cool, unique kind of hostel/B&B. We stayed upstairs in the room with the King-sized bed and ocean-view. We patted ourselves on the backs for not being the “typical tourist couple” that stays at soulless, corporate resorts, surrounded by mostly older white people with too much money to spend and boisterous American families with cute-but-spoiled children.

Our smugness was a little premature as we realized our bedroom only had three solid walls. The fourth wall was comprised of slatted folding doors, which opened to reveal a bird’s-eye view of the kitchen. The setup provided excellent ventilation since the house doesn’t have A/C, but was not particularly great for privacy, especially when one envisioned a sexy, secluded stay. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here (I just wouldn’t forget to bring earplugs next time!).

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Votive Park, Vienna

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I can hardly believe that it’s been a year since I was eagerly awaiting spring’s arrival in Vienna. I don’t think I ever appreciated spring until enduring three European winters. Growing up in California definitely never prepared me for the long, cold, gray winters that the Viennese endure. Nor did going to college in Southern California. However, what you get in Vienna that you don’t get in California is a spectacular spring. One day you are surrounded by barren trees and the next you are awash in pastels. It’s hard to describe the collective excitement you feel with the citizens of Vienna as the gray skies are reclaimed by the sun. It’s like the whole city emerges from hibernation; Suddenly, you start seeing people everywhere. Outdoor cafes that were closed for winter reopen, taking over narrow, cobblestone streets, and park benches which had been unoccupied for months turn into prime-time real estate. What the Viennese taught me that Californian’s never could (simply because we’re spoiled and take good weather for granted) is how to appreciate and enjoy the sun.

I lived in Vienna’s 9th district (Alsergrund) for two years, just around the corner from the Votivkirche, one of the landmark churches in the city, and Schottentor, the U2 metro station on the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s most famous street. In spring, the cherry blossom trees that line the the streets and park in front of the church are jaw-dropping. In the Votivpark (Votive Park), fifty shades of gray are replaced by blue skies, fluffy white clouds, brilliant green grass, and pink blossoms, making this a very popular hangout spot for Uni Wien (University of Vienna) students on break in-between classes. If you’re lucky enough to be in Vienna at the start of spring, this is a place you don’t want to miss.

 

 

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Sausalito Houseboats

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These houseboats date back to WWII and it’s clear that many of the people who live in these “floating homes” are professional artists. Walking around here is a photographer’s dream. The docks are lined with numerous, colorful potted succulents and flowers, tended to by the residents who seem to use the extra space on the docks as a collective “front yard.” The houseboats themselves vary in size and architectural design. I love how each home is a reflection of its resident; some are a little crazier, some are a little more toned down, some are simply falling apart. There’s truly a houseboat here for everyone. I tend to like the crazier of the bunch, the ones painted with neon colors and decorated with strange pieces of art (like the cat with its mouth hanging open…seriously, what is that? Or what about the house with a giant seagull’s eye for a window?). Many of the houses even have their own names.

It was a rather chilly, cloudy day in January when we took these pictures, but the foggy atmosphere of the place was just perfect. I almost felt like we were somewhere in Scandinavia. Still, I’d love to come back on a bright, warm day and see how the community is transformed by the sun. Maybe then we’ll feel like we’re somewhere along the Mediterranean.

 

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