Monday, September 26, 2011

The Comfort Zone

After spending two days in Vienna, I was haunted by this feeling that I've been here before, that I've seen this city, and felt at home. It wasn't a sense of deja vu or a newly found appreciation for past lives, rather it was the sense of the familiar. Largely architectural in nature, it took me a while to realize I felt back in New York. Throw in the chic riverside bar with panoramic views and a trendy, no sign restaurant packed at 10pm on a Tuesday and the similarities were remarkable. Cementing the sense of comfort was a walk down a major shopping boulevard that had all the hallmark shops of Fifth Avenue and Soho.

The twist, was the overwhelming sense of class Vienna exudes. For example, the opera house has an exterior jumbotron so the less fortunate can also enjoy the opera. Not to mention the green belt of public buildings, with identical facing museums, various testaments to the Hapsburg's wealth, etc. The city is also saturated with cafes that serve as portals through time and space. While searching for an end of night espresso, we stumbled upon the Michele, a small cafe and pizzeria that our Italian friends testify to being straight out of Italy in the 1920's. The decor was antique (and most likely authentic) which helped create the sense that we were now part of Woody Allen's new movie (with a few minor substitutions). Claire's observation that Vienna could be the love child of Paris and New York couldn't have felt more true.

Having spent almost three months abroad only to feel like we were back in NYC however, began to paint a bigger picture: we never truly left our comfort zone. We had foreknowledge that a summer in Europe would be a step out of the zone before we leaped out of the zone (and into India), but in retrospect we barely put on our shoes. Well, maybe at least the socks...

With the exception of Zadar, we had visited places where we knew people and/or had an elementary language comprehension. I can speak a little German and a little Spanish, and we had friends in Berlin, Italy, and Ibiza. Even in Vienna, our friends from Italy now lived there. A convenience of timing, jobs, relationships and flight schedules. Perhaps more of a contrivance than a convenience, but to our benefit nonetheless.

Then we hit Malaga.

We were relieved to be back in warmer weather, but this time we were on our own. No friends, no phone and a barely passing ability to speak the local language. Unlike Ibiza, not a lot of English is spoken here. Best guesses, English words with Spanish accents, and hand gestures that hopefully won't be mistaken for insults would have to suffice. Despite these obstacles, we still felt, well, relaxed. The pace of the town and our experiences were not unlike our time in Zadar. Sit on the beach, eat seafood, explore the city, repeat. No hassles or feelings of discomfort here. "Una jarra de Cerveza con Esperato Sardinias" while starring off to the horizon would put anyone at ease.

Until you start thinking about the horizon.

Not the literal one, but the figurative one representing the "out there", or "just ahead". That, for us, is India. I've been joking along saying "India is going to punch our reality in the face" half believing it. Though after a day in Tangier, I fully believe it.

My personality skews towards "hope for the best, prepare for the worst". The problem is, I know ZERO about Morocco. It's hard to prepare for the worst when your not prepared at all. I'm not trying to say It's the shit hole 50% of the people you talk to say it is, but what I am saying is when you don't know where you are, don't speak the language, don't know the culture and stick out like a sore thumb, comfort takes a back seat to practical matters. Your priorities go from "let's get donuts from a street vendor" (which we later did anyway) to "don't let your wife out of your site" and so on.

We have left the comfort zone.

But we're soon heading back. We're only in Tangier for another day, followed by three days in Paris. Then we hit India. Which, hard to believe, might keep us in the zone. We did a ton of research, they're notorious English speakers, and at no point will we be on our own. Three weeks with a volunteer group followed by a week with a guided tour. Our expectations are reasonable: we know about the toilettes, customs, foods, etc to manage the experience as best we can and will just have to wing it from there. Compared to Tangier, we should be OK.

Then again, we're taking a 48 hour train ride from Delhi to Cochin... I really hate getting punched in the face.

- Bill

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vienna part 1- "I'll take one palace please!"

After spending three weeks on an island in the Mediterranean, coming back to Berlin was a shock. It wasn't anything we weren't expecting but it really jogged my brain and did a number on bills body- he got super sick. We had to go back to Berlin because we had already booked flights from Berlin to Vienna and there were some practical matters to attend to. I mailed a big box of stuff home, we uploaded all our photo and video to the back up server and we stayed with Dave and Miriam and said goodbye for awhile. We won't see them until their wedding in Mexico next year.

We landed in vienna at 2pm and a couple of hours later we were checking into the worst hotel we've stayed at so far. Sometimes you just know, from looking at the place while walking down the street, that this was going to be gross. Its was technically a hostel so there were three beds in our room, two were pushed together to make a big bed and had very clean sheets. The third was a really dirty looking mattress and box spring on the floor. The toilet was in a separate room from the bathroom and had a leak so there was mold on the wall and ceiling. Aside from the leak the bathroom was pretty spotless and the room was large. I knew there wasn't any point in asking to change rooms because they were all probably like this and it just seemed kind of arbitrary to complain about it when we were going to be in India in 10 days.

Our friend Davide of Napoli fame had just moved to Vienna to be with his girlfriend Virginia while she studies for her PhD so we had plans to eat at his restaurant that evening, which we did and it was delicious. That kid really knows how to make a pizza. Afterwards we went to a bar that is situated on a stationary boat on the Danube river. It was a very chilly evening and bill and I decided that the first thing we needed to do was buy a sweater and hat the next day. We were pretty tired from traveling, even though it was a short flight lugging around a 30 lb. suitcase all day from the Berlin metro to the airport to the Vienna metro (on top of my "purse" which is really the size of a small suitcase and must weigh at least 10lbs with the iPad, make up, wallet, glasses, etc...) we were pretty beat so we called it a night after a few drinks. I refused to go to sleep until I had taken a dirty t shirt of mine and put it over the pillow. Yes, even sweaty t shirt armpits were more comforting to me than that pillow. And I took some allergy medicine that makes me very drowsy so I was out like a light.

The next day we had a very full itinerary and got started right after we ate a horrible breakfast, provided by the hotel, of a stale roll and generic nutella. first stop was the belvedere museum, situated in the belvedere palace of course! Vienna in daylight was striking. the whole city looks like park or 5th ave in new York, but the huge, ornate and beautiful buildings are arranged to make the city feel quaint and welcoming. There were wide open squares, tiny little streets, the tram had old wooden benches. The people were very pleasant looking and extremely polite, there is no shortage of coffee or pastries, the streets were immaculate, the trains ran on time, and around every turn there were just gorgeous city views. A lot of places, like the little cafes and restaurants looked like they were frozen in time. A simpler, happier time. Or the 70's, whichever, but there was a very modern feeling and energy buzzing around. I know it sounds trite, but you really do get a feel of a place, almost a 6th sense. For example, my feeling about Berlin was it was really shitty and the people were awful. However, this town could charm the pants off even the most hardened and cynical human. It definitely was doing a number on me.
Back to the belvedere. We got off the tram right out front and go through the gate and bam! Palace. Right there. It was enormous and decadent. I immediately decided I wanted to forgo any other wish I ever had in my life and I now want a palace. I want to sit in my palace, with a fur muff and hat (faux of course, no one needs to get upset) and drink hot spiced wine and look at the view from my big palace balcony. These are the things you hear about in fairy tales. So and so was a poor slave and her fairy god mother made a prince fall in love with her and now she lives in a PALACE. and here it was. Bill and I also agreed that the Austrian empire must have had a shit ton of cash, and a lot was probably left over which is why this city is so wonderful.

The museum itself had a lot of interesting artwork, namely the famous napoleon painting which I thought was in Paris, there was also a horse sculpture we really liked but failed to get the name of the artist. The main attraction for this museum is the Klimt section that includes his most famous work "The Kiss". It's so weird to study these famous works of art and then when you actually see them in person it's very surreal. I actually liked another one of his paintings more than the kiss, but my attention span is too short for things like names so I don't know what it's called.

After the museum we went to Stephansplatz and did what I love to do when I'm on vacation- go to Starbucks. I'm not kidding. I never go there at home and sometimes when you're far away it's a very indulgent thing to do. And it was freezing cold out and we needed to warm up. We got a sandwich and a huge coffee and talked about how much I loved it there. Bill said it wa sup there for him but he didn't know about loving it quite yet. The cold wasn't even bothering me, I feel like Vienna is one of the only places where the colder it gets the more charming it is. I would love to come back here in December, the Viennese are obsessed with Christmas and to be here with the snow falling would be a dream. After coffee we went to H&M where I got a sweater and bill got a hat, then we went over to St. Stephan's cathedral where we met up with Davide. The cathedral was probably the most beautiful church I've ever seen, and we've seen a ton of churches on this trip so far. It's hard to describe, I mean, it's very cathedral-y. Hopefully the pictures give some idea of how incredible it was but I doubt they come close to doing it justice.

After the cathedral we did some wandering and then met with Virginia after she got out of the lab. tourists must do is the pastry/coffee thing here so we chose a very charming (I know I keep using that word but I can't help it, that's exactly what it is) shop and go upstairs to be seated in their all salmon colored decor. The carpet, chairs, wallpaper were all salmon colored. I felt like I was in a movie set from the early 80's. I get the sachertort and hot chocolate, bill gets a fruit tart and a Viennese cafe. As we sit there eating our pastries, along with tourists and other austrians Virginia makes the astute observation that "there is no crisis here, the rest of the world is falling to pieces, but here, people just eat cake and drink coffee. There is no crisis" which makes me love this place even more. I'll sit in my palace, with my muff and spiced hot wine and eat sachertort all day long.

After our cake and beverages we went to the Prater to take a ferris wheel ride. The same ferris wheel featured in "The Third Man" with Orson Wells. It's the oldest operating ferris wheel in the world which was making me a little nervous but I like ferris wheels and I'm excited. From the time we bought our tickets to the time we got on the ride, which was all of 3 minutes, it started to pour rain. The sun was already down so we were hoping to get a view of the city all lit up but the rain obstructed any view we had. As the car started to go around and get higher, the wind started rattling the windows and door and by the time we were at the very top I was a nervous wreck hiding my head in my hands, lamenting my choice. After that terrifying experience we walked in the rain to Schweizerhaus Restaurant, which Virginia says is very well known. Despite the amusement park being dead, the restaurant was packed. We ordered Austrian staples: the schnitzel, goulash, potato fritters, roasted chicken and a bunch of other things that were delicious. Of course no meal is complete without peach schnapps, which a big table of old men were downing like there was no tomorrow. Virginia and I drank some of those and bill was disappointed because he couldn't order the mountain of pork. The mountain of pork is a whole pork shoulder on the bone and takes 4 people to eat. Since the rest of us weren't into it he was deprived of the opportunity. I assured him that one day when he has his own man club he can eat all the pork mountains he wants. It did seem like the place was turning into a man club, there was table after table filled with old guys with crazy long mustaches ordering pork mountains and singing loudly while throwing back schnapps. For those of you wondering what the pork mountain looks like, here is a picture we pulled off the Internet:

We left around 11 because the metro doesn't run after 12 and we didn't want to have to figure out the night bus back to our hotel. I took some more drowsy allergy medicine and fell asleep happy, full and dreamt of palaces.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

This is not Inception

I have a long history with the Ibiza; any attempt of recounting stories or divulging the depth of belonging that place fills me with would lead to a never ending story. When I first met my friend Ripp, my original experiences were still a fresh wound. Three months of a dream job in a dream location will leave an impact on you. He swears it was all I ever talked (about at the time) to the brink of irritation. Thankfully he never punched me in the face, but he did introduce me to Claire for which I gave him a very heartfelt, though alcoholicly motivated, "thank you" via his wedding videographer. She would also come to love the island the way I do, but fortunately for Ripp, she won't be talking his ear off about it any time soon.

There will always be unfinished business with Ibiza, you simply can not do it all. It's a comforting thought knowing the island will always be there. With the things that remain the same and the many things that change, it keeps calling us back. This time was no different. Even after three weeks of the place, we would go back there in a heart beat given the chance. Our friend Virginia asked how we didn't go broke after three weeks in Ibiza and the answer was simple: we didn't go clubbing. We went native. We went deeper into the dream.

Sure there was every DJ we ever wanted to see playing every night in the worlds best clubs, but there was a long list of things we always wanted to do the and know was our chance. With the exception of Cocoon on Mondays, we only went to three other parties, one of which we only stayed for an hour. The rest of the time was spent exploring the island. Of the 80 plus beaches some guides will list, we maybe hit 20. This included the very north of the island in Sant Miguel (where we caught the folk dancing exhibition), to Cala Llonga in the east, Es Cavallet in the south and Cala Comte in the west. The last of which was the most confusing to realize as we had been looking for Cala Conta not knowing it was the same beach, just listed in a different dialect (they speak up to three on the island, Spanish, Catalan and Ibicenco).

We had a manageable "to do" list, but still missed some of the islands highlights. Every new experience or adventure created two or three new ones. Swimming became snorkeling, snorkeling became deep sea fishing, and deep sea fishing became roasting the days catch on a cliffside bonfire over looking Es Vedra under a full moon while naked. We got as far as snorkeling. Even after four trips together, we still have not gone to D'alt Villa or the caves in Sant Miguel. We did however, finally make it to Formenterra. We went deeper still.

I've always been in love with Ibiza, but Formenterra revealed a whole knew level of appreciation to enjoy. It's as if you could go back in time to before the hippies, celebrities and British made Ibiza what it is today (take that statement however you want). Charming is an understatement. The beaches were prettier, quieter, with cleaner, clearer water than I Ever could have imagined possible. We had rented bicycles an attempted the ride to Migjorn, but after getting as far as Pujols, we did the math and realized we would never make the return trip in time to enjoy it. We did an about face and settled for Pujols and Llevnt. I use the word "Settled" loosely as in reality we were rewarded for such a decision. It is so picturesque, there was even a small shipwreck on one of the rocks not more than twenty meters from the shore. The more curious were constantly scorned by the lifeguard, but we were able to go snorkeling on the near side opposite the wreck.

One afternoon in Formenterra simply wasn't enough time there, leaving us with a renewed sense of returning someday. If we could see ourselves living in Ibiza, Formenterra is where we'd retire. Slower, quieter, and more charming than it's bigger sister, yet both are equally alluring in their own ways.

The ferry ride back to Ibiza was just as rocky as the trip there, but two mojitos at the sunset bar before hand made it a little more tolerable (then again, not much isn't tolerable after two mojitos). We have sat beach side at Carmens in Cala d'hort over looking Es Vedra every trip before, but not until this journey did we recognize the dragon shape for which the the rocky islands are named. Journeys like this are supposed to afford travelers insights and new perspectives, but in this instance it was comically literal.

Equally laughable is the perspective we now share that we went to Formentera to get away from Ibiza to get away from a six month around the world honeymoon.

A dream within a dream within a dream.

- Bill

Monday, September 12, 2011

More videos from the road, Rome edition

No, we haven't forgotten about the blog... But tanning is serious business :) we'll update more of our current adventures when things settle down a little bit, but we're on the verge of a two week travel gauntlet and there's little time to reflect when you're in the thick of it. Luckily, we have a video camera. So though we don't get to sit down in a cafe, drink coffee and eloquently put our new experiences into words, we do get to make silly videos for you to enjoy. Here now, without much further ado is the unedited video compendium to "Bill and Claire vs Rome", Parts One and Two...

Monday, September 5, 2011


I've always thought Ibiza has the most beautiful beaches in the world. My vocabulary isn't nearly developed enough to accurately describe them and the pictures barely do them justice, but will have to suffice for the time being....

Cala Comte, nude beach we spent the day snorkeling at with our little fishing net. Bill caught a sardine and something that looked like a mini catfish.

A stretch of cliffs between Es Cavallet and Las Salinas, the Romans used this as a quarry for the rock that built D'alt villa. not, as I previously thought had something to do with mining salt.....

Vadella, a view from the road above.

Cala Salada, our favorite so far.

Cala D'Hort. Home of Carmens restaurant which has the BEST paella ever!! And a great view of Es Vedra.

Mambo isn't a beach, but it's the most amazing place to see the sunset, our friend Luciano works there and the champagne sangria is delicious.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Spreading love and awesomeness across the universe.

Day 63 - Monday, August 29th

Me outside amnesia in the early morning :)

It has occurred to me that those of you reading this blog who do not know bill and I personally may not understand the whole "cocoon" thing. Cocoon is a techno record label based in Frankfurt owned and run by our favorite Dj/shaman Sven Vath. There is also cocoon club in Frankfurt (we had an earlier post about that when we were in Frankfurt last month) and there is a cocoon party Monday nights at Amnesia in Ibiza. Bill lived on the island years ago when he was working for a tour company, and loved going to this party, which is now in it's twelfth year. We went to Ibiza together 3 years in a row specifically for cocoon, we skipped a last year, but now we are BACK BABY!

So, because we had to travel such a long and expensive distance to get to Ibiza every year we went balls to the wall and always made a costume that corresponded to each seasons theme. Ibiza is a little like New York in that the most eccentric and fun loving people populate the island, and no one would look twice if you were walking down the street with no pants on and say, a lampshade on your head. I have not done the lampshade thing but bill has witnessed it. Ibiza is about being free, funky, creative, energetic and generally having a good time. One year we made disco helmets, another year we went in head to toe gold with huge cocoon logos on our heads, another year we made these crazy hats and bill literally cut out thousands of tiny silver Mylar squares and made a disco jacket. These things took months to put together but definitely got us noticed. Last time we were here we strolled into amnesia and sven's tour manager came up to us and said "were you guys here last summer in silver helmets?" and promptly put us in VIP with a stack of drink tickets.

So when we decided to leave Berlin and go to Ibiza we had 3 days to get a costume together. This seasons theme was "cocoon heroes" which, in my opinion, is really about the all stars of the party but something got lost in the translation to English. I bought a bodysuit from American apparel and was basically done. Boobs and legs will take you a long way in this world but bill had to work a little but harder on his outfit. We found the home depot of Berlin the day before we left and lo and behold, they had silver mylar tape. And hot pink spray paint. Two things a person cannot live without in this life! He bought a black v neck tee and the plan was to put a design on the shirt using the tape. Now we had to make the flash symbol that was used on the flyer. This is bill's shirt going thru the creative process:

And him showing off his handy work:

He contemplated cutting down one of the local campaign signs from a street lamp because they were made of corrugated plastic, but we thought better of it because that's probably a crime or something. We settled for a cardboard ikea box we found on the street. He cut the shapes out, and packed the cardboard with some wire hangers in his suitcase. This would have to be assembled when we got there because the finished product would be about 4 feet tall.

We flew easyjet, which is basically a free for all party on a plane. It was the worst 3 hours of my life. It was our own fault for booking a flight to Ibiza on a saturday night but these crazy ass Russians sitting behind us were in full blown party mode. People were hanging out in the aisle of the plane dancing and drinking and screaming at the top of their lungs and being nuts. We have never flown easyjet before and if you haven't either here's a tip: there's no seat assignments. When they let people out of the gate to walk across the Tarmac to the plane people bolted out like it was the running of the bulls and were fighting over seats. Luckily bill and I found seats together but it was still an awful flight. One thought did occur to me as I was holding onto my tray table for dear life praying that the plane wouldn't go down because I did not want my last moments on earth to be with these insane Russians, and that thought was we had done the most dangerous thing we could ever do- booking a one way ticket to the island. There was a strong possibility we would never come back to reality.

Saturday night we went to bed early and Sunday we hit the beach. Suspicions from the night before were confirmed when after being on the beach for all of 10 minutes bill declared he wanted to spend the next 3 weeks here until we had to go to Vienna. Later that evening we stopped by cafe mambo to visit our old friend Luciano, who works for pacha selling club tickets, and to get some sangria. Luciano was happy to hear we would be hanging around for awhile, bill and him have known each other for about 10 years. They met when bill was working on the island and he's always glad to see us when we pop up every summer. We mentioned that we were going to cocoon and he immediately whipped out his phone and said (in his Italian accent) "ah yes! Well, I will put you on the guest list then!" admission to parties in Ibiza are around 60€ per person, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. So this just saved us a shitload of money. I like saving money, especially when i don't have a job. He also started calling bill "king bill" because he assumes we are somehow magically rich to spend 3 weeks here, which is not the case either.
Anyways, getting to the point of the story. We go to amnesia on Monday. Bill has to drive, obviously because I don't, so we always bring a bottle of vodka in the car with a mixer. We park the car at the club and do a little pre game action. Drinks inside are literally 16€, which is like $22 so we don't really do a whole lot of drinking, or we would be in the poorhouse. That's another Ibiza money saving tip, your welcome. We have our outfits, our flash, our camera and we are ready to go. An hour into the party we are hanging out on he terrace and people start asking us if they can take a picture with our flash. It's crazy how what started out as a little shitty cardboard box was making people so excited! We started taking pictures with everyone, of everyone, and waving the flash around above the crowd. Phrank, the cocoon photographer who has been taking pictures of us for 3 years saw us and motioned for me to come over to the booth. I climbed up onto the railing (in 5" stilettos, not the safest thing) and leaned over. He says to me that he recognizes us and we are the fucking craziest people he's ever seen. I laugh at him and tell him we recognize him also and ask him if he will hold our flash for a picture and he of course obliges.

Then he says to come with him. I get bill and we go around and follow him upstairs into VIP, then he takes us through some other door backstage. They have a whole photoshoot area where they take pictures of the DJs and their friends for the marketing of the party. He announces to the assistants that he has found "the real heroes" and proceeds to do a shoot with me, then bill, then us together. we do shots of hierbas (a local Baleric liquor) and we hang out to watch him shoot a group of friends that came in after us. One of the assistants was a lovely British girl and she explained that the photos will appear on the large screens in the club during that nights party and in about a week they will have an album of the shots they did that night on Facebook and the cocoon website, and at the end of the season she will email all the photos to everyone.

After hanging a little bit longer security came through and yelled at bill because he had shorts on. So we went back out onto the floor and danced to some of the best music I've ever heard in my life. Besides that, I think we spent half the night just taking pics of people holding the flash. I've never seen so many people so happy. The best is when you meet someone who doesn't speak any English at all because you have the same conversation, it's just through smiles and photos and the occasional high five. We must have at least 2 dozen pics of the people we met but here are just a few.

We decided to leave a little after 6 because I couldn't feel my feet anymore. I'm a stiletto veteran but dancing for 6 hours straight in high heel platforms was too much for me. We were accosted in the parking lot with people who wanted to take a picture with the flash and we struck up a convo with a spanish guy and between his tiny bit of English and bills tiny bit of Spanish we somehow managed to talk for about a half hour debating the location of the after party.

Back in the car we voted for no after party, went home, slept, and then went to the most beautiful beach at Cala Salada. I'll write about the beaches in a separate post because there are so many that are super. Beautiful that they need a whole page dedicated to them :)