Archive for February, 2013

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 8: Getting Settled in Johannesburg

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

After a brief pit stop in Germany (mainly to pick up our luggage and our visas, which thankfully arrived in time), we flew to our fifth and final continent over the course of two months: Africa. This time, however, the destination was more permanent, as we are both going to start working in Johannesburg in March. That also means that our daily program in the first few days here so far consisted less of sightseeing and more of sorting out the practicalities – finding an apartment, getting a bank account, and buying cars. Johannesburg is a car city, there is only very limited public transport and the city is quite spread out, so you need a car. So far, it looks like we are making good progress on these tasks.

We really like the city as far as we can tell up to now. It is really green (the guide book says it “must be the largest man-made forest with six million trees”), the climate is really nice (not too hot but quite pleasant, and the winters are also supposed to be rather mild at least in the day time), and the food is really good and quite affordable. Safety-wise we were a bit concerned in the beginning, but as long as you are watching out it seems to be quite alright. We are definitely both very excited to be here and spend the forseeable future here!

Update: Photos Added!

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I have now added photos to all of the posts of our five-continent trip so far… Took me a little time to sort through all of them, but here they are, so enjoy (see the respective posts below).

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 7: Toronto, Washington (Again)

Monday, February 11th, 2013

From Washington, we took a plane to Toronto — we wanted to see another country on our trip and neither of us had been to Canada before. We had been worrying that it would be way too cold up there, but it actually wasn’t too bad, and the first two days we had quite nice weather. On the first day, we visited the CN Tower, a Toronto landmark that between its construction in 1976 and 2007 (when Burj Khalifa overtook it) was the tallest freestanding structure in the world. With a cloud-free sky you could see quite far from up there, but more interesting than the view to the sides is the view down — the observation deck has an area with a glass floor, and even though it should be perfectly safe you get kind of dizzy just looking down through it. After the tower, we went to Toronto Music Garden, a garden designed after J. S. Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello (which is quite an interesting concept, and makes for a nice garden, even though it would probably be more beautiful in summer), and walked around through the city bit.

The next day, we went to Niagara Falls. We had booked a tour that was gonna pick us up in the morning, and we were expecting it to be a bus — instead it was a black stretch limousine, with only three other people! Traveling far outside the peak season does have its advantages sometimes! The falls themselves are amazing, especially the ones on the Canadian side (the Niagara river separates Canada and the US, and there are two falls next to each other, separated by an island that belongs to the US). The Canadian falls are shaped like a horseshoe, and enormous amounts of water are thundering down so that the falls are always covered in a cloud of mist. With temperatures well below freezing, that meant that all the trees and plants in the proximity were covered with a thick layer of ice — quite an amazing sight! After the falls, we went to the small and cute (albeit somewhat touristy) town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which actually was the first capital of Upper Canada (which now is Ontario) in the late 1700s. After we spent some time walking around the streets there (and getting a hot tea to warm ourselves up), we then as the last stop of our tour went to a winery, where we tasted some of the local wine, especially the ice wine which the region is famous for. In the evening after the tour, we went for dinner with some INSEAD students who are now in Toronto — which was great fun.

Starting Thursday evening and running all through Friday, we had a big snow storm, which meant that we spent most of the time just relaxing in the hotel. By Saturday, when we were supposed to fly out to Boston, the storm had left Toronto… but collided with another one in the north east of the US to form the massive blizzard “Nemo”, which hit especially Boston really hard. Of course, our flight got cancelled, but we also thought that it simply might not be a good idea to fly there even a day later when probably the city would still be cleaning up the damage and potentially be without power or public transport. So instead — we ended up going back to Washington because we found a cheap flight. In Washington, we basically only spent the night, to then on the next day go back to my relatives in Chadd’s Ford, PA. In effect, instead of our planned five-city loop we ended up retracing a four-city itinerary, since after Chadd’s Ford we will go back to NYC and fly back out to Germany from there.

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 6: Philadelphia, Washington

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

After New York City, we headed out to Philadelphia – well, sort of. We actually went to visit my relatives, who live far our in the countryside west of Philadelphia, in Chadd’s Fort (which apparently is one of the best school districts in the area). There we witnessed some of the typical American idyllic lifestyle – huge houses with two-car garages, no sidewalks because you have to drive everywhere anyway, shopping of super sized items at Costco, etc. It was interesting to experience that, too, especially after the busy, crammed and crowded streets of NYC. And of course it was also nice to catch up with my family.

We also went into Philly proper for a day, to check out the city and meet a friend of J’s. The city is certainly not as exciting as New York, but it features some important landmarks of US history, namely Independence Hall, the site at which both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787 were drafted and signed, and the Liberty Bell, which serves as a symbol of American freedom. Especially the visit to Independence Hall was thought-provoking — these men crafted a document more than 225 years ago, forming the first modern democracy, and even though it certainly has its flaws and needed some amendments too, it still lies at the core of the world’s most powerful nation. Other than these sights, we also visited the Wanamaker organ, which is a huge organ, located in a department store (now Macy’s, but it used to be owned and operated by name-giving John Wanamaker, who was an organ lover), ate the famous Philadelphia cheese steak, and wandered around the streets for a bit. In the evening, we had dinner with J’s friend and went to a Jazz club.

Before we left Chadd’s Ford, we went to Gettysburg with my relatives, which is about two and a half hours by car from their place. J and I both didn’t know much about the American Civil War, but the museum at Gettysburg was very good and informative — both about the war in general and about the battle of Gettysburg in particular, and why it was so important. It also showcased Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which he gave on the occasion of the opening of a war cemetery a few months after the battle. Interestingly, back then the speech didn’t elicit unanimous praise — on the contrary, some even ridiculed the short speech.

Our next stop was Washington, D.C. As a city that is completely planned and centered around the government buildings and the National Mall, it is quite impressive. Just walking around between all the monuments, memorials, the White House and Capitol Hill gives a sense of the power that these institutions have. On top of that, there are of course the museums, most of which are free and huge — you really have to pick and choose if you are only there for a few days. We visited the Museum of American History, the Holocaust Museum, the Museum for Natural History, and the Air & Space Museum. We also took a tour of the Capitol and went into the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Folger Shakespeare Library – a pretty tight schedule for two days!

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 5: Germany, New York

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

After having spent a few days in Germany, mostly for me to sort out stuff related to my South African visa application, we started on a last trip before we are going to start working again in March: we went to the US East Coast with a short detour to Canada -thereby ticking off the fourth continent within a month.
The first stop (after some delays on our flight due to snowy weather in Europe) was New York. Given that I had never been to the US before, what better city could there have been to start the trip than New York? We were able to stay at the apartment of a friend of J’s, conveniently located in midtown Manhattan. New York was even colder than Germany, but since it is so much further south, the days were much longer, which was great for sightseeing.

In the six days we spent in New York, we did a lot of things – this city really provides endless opportunities! We did some of the obvious touristy things such as going to the top of the Empire State Building (really, really freezing cold there in the cold January wind with temperatures of about -10 centigrade!) , a cruise to the Statue of Liberty (unfortunately both Liberty Island and the neighboring Ellis Island which features a supposedly very interesting immigration museum have been closed since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc there), the 9/11 memorial (very impressive, with two square black pools in the locations of the twin towers), and visiting the Guggenheim museum (just missing the end of a big Picasso exhibition, so that half the museum was closed to set up the next show). We also did a lot of shopping, both for clothes and for gadgets (I got an iPad mini, while J opted for the less expensive option, a Nexus 7).

Most of the time, however, we spent walking around the city, checking out different areas and neighborhoods – and I must say, in NYC this is really a worthwhile activity. From the glamour and blinking lights of Broadway and Times Square to the luxurious storefronts of Fifth Avenue; from busy Wall Street to hip(ster) Williamsburg; from huge Central Park to the elevated Highline Park, which has been built on a former railroad viaduct and leads through abandoned and refurbished industrial buildings; from walking through Chinatown feeling like a colder version of Hong Kong to hearing people everywhere speak with so strong American accents that I wouldn’t know anymore how to exaggerate them.

All in all, I was very impressed by the city – so many things to see, do, and experience! It was interesting, however, how man things already felt familiar because I had seen them in movies or on TV – you get the feeling that you’re in one – if not the – cultural center of the world!

Some pictures follow.

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