Phase I: Complete!

We wrapped up our time in Europe with a visit to Duisburg, home of The German. His parents are super-nice, though its always a bit tough because they don’t speak English and I only know a little tourist German and he is perpetually exhausted from playing translator.

All in all it was a nice way to finish our European adventures – he got to visit his folks and collect some important mail, while I got a fix of his Mom’s excellent potato salad. Next is a stop in SF for 9 days to see all of our SF friends, eat as much Tacolicious as possible, and prep for the next phase of travel (which starts in Rwanda).

I can’t believe we’ve been on the road for 3 months already! Here are some (self-indulgent) observations about how its going:

I’m watching far less tv. I think this is mainly because I have more mental and physical energy for other things now that I’m not constantly working and commuting 3-4 hours per day. This doesn’t mean I didn’t see the full season of Game of Thrones (despite having to jump through some VPN hoops to my make HBO Now subscription work – the electronic distribution laws need a major overhaul.) And I still indulge in the odd Netflix binge when the weather is poor or I’m feeling lazy, but overall, I’m spending a lot less time watching tv.

We met fewer people than I expected… but we saw many more friends! Sure, we would chat with the odd person while we were in line for something, but we really didn’t meet very many new people. However, we saw far more friends than I expected! Between Apple colleagues, developers we met through Apple, friends who live abroad, or friends who happened to be on vacation abroad, we never went more than a couple days without seeing someone we knew. To get quality time with all these folks that I truly enjoy was really the best part of the trip so far.

I’m far less productive than I thought I’d be. All of those things I always said I’d do if I had more time? Still haven’t done them. (I haven’t even managed to make this blog look decent – sheesh!) Some of this is excusable – daily life takes a lot longer when you’re in a strange place and don’t speak the language. Things like grocery shopping can take hours instead of minutes. And I have a lot more travel planning to do on a regular basis. However, some of this lack of productivity is due to having fewer external forces committing me to things. And I’m sleeping too much. So I’m in the process of correcting this, starting with setting an alarm each day. (8 hours of sleep is plenty.) And I’m reading a lot more.

I don’t miss work but I do miss dancing. I really thought I’d miss all the activity and importance of work, or telling people that “I work for Apple”, but thankfully it seems that work doesn’t define me as much as I thought it did. It felt weird to watch the annual developer’s conference from the outside, and I still love discussing apps with people, but I am not feeling completely lost without having a job (which I was initially concerned about). What I really miss is dancing on a regular basis. It’s much harder to motivate to do Zumba on my own when I’m not prepping to teach a class. I have actually done some spontaneous bellydancing (in our AirBnB) and worked on a few new Zumba routines, but its less satisfying when I don’t have anyone to share it with. Starting with Berlin, I’ve made dance a priority and I’m going to do my best to make it happen regularly, even with language differences…

… which leads me to the next point:

I need to take more risks. The problem with my nature of constantly planning everything and having all of this technology at our disposal means we’re very comfortable – which is both good and bad. Yes, we have probably avoided some disgusting accommodation or regularly enjoyed decent meals, but it also means I’m not pushing myself to grow enough. This isn’t supposed to be a year-long relaxing vacation – I want to come away feeling like I really lived it. So I’m going to take dance classes even though I can’t understand what the instructor is saying. And I’m going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, despite my worries about altitude sickness and the fact that it involves camping. And basically I’m going to say “yes” all the time, even if I’m not sure if I’ll like something. If nothing else, I’ll have a funny story for you all.

I can’t believe people are actually reading this blog! I expected my family would (Hi Mom!), but quite frankly, I’m surprised that so many of my friends are reading it, let alone strangers! So thanks for all the encouragement – I’ll certainly do my best to keep it going.


Now we’re headed into an action-packed 9 days in SF to see all of my SF loved-ones, attend an epic wedding for two men I adore, and eat all of the things! Then we head to Africa, where it will certainly be very different…


We spent a long weekend in Berlin. I’ve been several times before but always in winter. It’s a completely different city in the summertime… I didn’t realize there were so many different parks around, and we saw a lot more street art and many different  neighbourhoods since we weren’t always rushing indoors to get out of the bitter cold.

This park had mini trampolines built into the ground!

We stayed in a great hotel for very little money. (It’s weirdly low season right now and I had a bunch of Expedia points that helped with the room rate.) It was such a nice change to be in a bright, modern hotel with daily maid service, air conditioning, and working wifi!

Some highlights were:

• A sidewalk cafe where the cost of the cheese was based on how many centimeters you ate:


• Taking several dance classes

• A pop-up rooftop wine bar, which  was a promo for a local winery. You paid €3 for the wine glass (which you got to keep), and then they poured as much wine as you wanted. (They had 22 different varieties, and no, we didn’t manage to try them all.) At the end of your visit, there’s a barrel for you to leave some money at your discretion – it’s up to you to decide what seems fair based on how much you drank. The night we were there, there was also someone selling raclette.  So basically, wine, cheese, and sunshine – what’s not to like?


A local friend  showed us a car service called Drive Now. You can use your iPhone to find a car closeby, unlock it, and drive off. It charges you by the minute for the time you use – no reservations needed. Then you just find a parking spot on the street and tell the app you’re done with the car. The best part is that the company has some arrangement with the city so you don’t have to worry about paying for parking – just find any available spot on the street and leave it! He quickly demonstrated as we walked past a convertible Mini on a sunny day –  such a great service!

I was holding a bouquet of wine glasses as we whizzed through Berlin

I had a very easy time finding great vegetarian food in Berlin, we had nothing but sunny skies, and I finally made it to the Bauhaus Museum (which was closed the last two times I was there). So all in all, a really great time…

… until the day we were trying to leave. Maybe it was Berlin’s way of telling us to stay longer, but we wound up with a huge mess at the train station. We had tickets for 3 different trains, which included a stop at dinnertime so Stefan could see an old friend, and ultimately getting to his hometown around 10pm.

When we got to the train station, the DB app said the first train was an hour later than we thought it was. We chalked it up to time zone confusion with Calendar, even though The German is usually pretty meticulous about things like that.  (Its not as though we are inexperienced in this department.) Next up is a flurry of messages, telling his friend and parents we’d be an hour later than expected.

This is the massive entral station for Berlin,  yet there were probably only 4 benches in the whole place.  There were piles of luggage and groups of weary travelers everywhere… no wifi, terrible cellular connectivity, and nothing but McDonald’s and cheap coffee chains for entertainment. (First world problems, I know).

After 2 hours of boredom and a little bit of sitting on the floor, we looked at the signage in the station to see if our first train was on time and realize that we’ve somehow missed our first train. What?! As it turns out, the time listed in the official train app was wrong by one hour, and we didn’t realize it until 6 minutes after the train departed. Sigh.

So now it’s time to stand in line to (hopefully) exchange the tickets. We bought them at a huge discount so we were expecting a problem.  Stefan was wise enough to show the girl the DB app and let her go through the same exercise he did. After a lot of confusion in trying to find the train status, she chalked it up to being a software bug with their app. They didn’t have any real excuse nor apology, but gave us new tickets for Train 1 and 2 without any hassle. Train 3 would hold at the original time. This means less time for dinner and another series of texts with Stefan’s father, who is certainly confused about when we are showing up.

At this point, we park ourselves at the platform to make sure we don’t miss New Train 1. Assuming all goes as planned, we have 11 minutes to change platforms for New Train 2. This seems like it should be plenty of time, but we are dragging heavy bags with us and this day isn’t going well.

So of course, New Train 1 leaves late, the platforms at the interchange are far apart, and some of the elevators aren’t working at that station. This means we have a pretty big distance to go, and have to use the dreaded stairs.

As I’m trying to heave my 45 lb bag up this huge flight of stairs, some nice German man in suit takes it from me and carries it up. (This would only happen in the US if someone was stealing it from you.) And that’s when everything turned around – the rest of the trains were uneventful, we had a great time for a few hours with Stefan’s old friend, and we made it to Duisburg just fine (albeit sweaty and tired).

We each expected some sort of trsnsit mess to happen at some point in this adventure, but we didn’t expect it to be in a place where one of us spoke the language fluently, let alone Stefan’s home country. He is very disappointed with his country. 🙂

Dance Classes in Berlin

So after failing to get to any kind of classes in Helsinki (where classes were cancelled because of the Midsummer holiday), London (where I was too busy eating & drinking with friends), or Barcelona (where even the instructors I exchanged emails with had incorrect times/locations on their websites), I was determined to make it a priority in Berlin.

As luck would have it, I found a dance studio that was a 7 minute walk from our hotel. Not only did they offer Zumba, but a lot of other interesting sounding classes like “Shimmy up” and “Burlazz!”. They were very responsive over email and even sent me a class schedule. Drop-in rates were a little pricey at €13.50, but I was really craving movement so I went to check it out. (And as it happens, you get two trial classes – one for €6 and a second for €8, so that was a nice surprise!)

Its a really nice facility. They have 4 studios and a small cafe where you can buy drinks, a lounge area, large changing rooms, and even showers. The dance studios are large with great floors, tons of mirrors, huge windows, and are obviously cleaned nightly (unlike my studio in SF, which I’m pretty sure was never cleaned). The only problem is you’re not allowed to have any windows open while music is playing, so every dance class also doubled as a sauna. It was so seriously sweaty (even with 2 fans) that someone mopped the floors after one Zumba class!

First up was Zumba with Jenny. She was supposedly one of the first instructors in Germany. Like almost every Zumba class I’ve ever been to, she came over and welcomed me as a new student, which was nice. And I didn’t have to worry about the language barrier since that was the last talking that happened. Jenny is a great dancer and I loved her routines, which were very dance-y and a lot of reggaeton.  The down side was that she wasn’t much into cueing, which got pretty frustrating as a new student (and I’m a quick study when it comes to choreography).

She had 2 other men in her class, once of which was clearly studying to be an instructor and lead a song. (His cueing was actually pretty decent – you could tell he was doing an official Zumba routine and doing it exactly by the book.)  He was friends with all the girls who ran over and greeted him with air kisses on the cheeks before and during class – obviously he’s the class celebrity/playboy and I loved watching him. 

Despite the lack of cueing, it felt great to move again and I got a good workout (or certainly a good sweat). 

The next day I went to a Dancehall class taught by the “German Dancehall Queen of 2010” (whatever that means). This class involved a lot more talking by the instructor… in German. I expected that might be the case, but given that Dancehall is pretty loose movement, I figured I’d just do my best to follow. (She came in late, so there was no chitchat or opportunity for me to tell her I didn’t speak German.)

She seems to do a new chorography each class so at least I was starting at the beginning with everyone else. A lot of it was just following along, but sometimes she’d stop us all and say some long list of instructions or crucial info about the choreography, followed by “Ok?”. Everyone would say “Ja!” and then the music would start and I’d be doing a totally different part of the routine from the rest of the class. 

At one point, she had us in pairs doing some very fast arm movements that involved fist-bumping each other with our hands in the air (almost like a high five, but with fists). I just kept telling myself “Don’t punch this girl in the face. Don’t punch this girl in the face.” Thankfully, neither of us left with a black eye – success!

The class ended with a song that literally involved nothing but squats and lunges, which I figured was my punishment for not exercising enough lately.

Despite the language challenges, it was a really fun class and I’d totally go again. And there’s really no need to feel self-conscious since I’m only here for 3 days and can’t understand anything anyone is saying. It’s all very liberating – all I have to do is show up and have fun.

The final class was Zumba again, but a different instructor. She seemed to be new, at least to that studio, and wasn’t listed correctly on the schedule so I didn’t catch her name. 

Her cueing was perfect so she was super-easy to follow. She tried to do the whole class as one long megamix of songs, but the studio got so hot she had to pause halfway through so we could open the windows for a couple minutes and get some air. 

There was 1 older man in the class, who looked so stereotypically German I started to think of him as Grandpa Sprockets. He had white, closely cropped hair and wore black long pants, a black t-shirt, and all black workout shoes. He executed all of the movements with military precision and a kept a stern look on his face the whole time. He was right behind me, and quite the contrast to my happy expression and bouncy movements. Obviously, I loved him. 

The instructor spoke in both German and English (for my benefit) and actually asked for feedback after class, which I thought was such a good idea. I wish I could have gone to more classes from her!

And speaking of stereotypes, there was a Crossfit gym on the second floor which I always passed on my way out. I couldn’t see anything but their snarling bear logo on the windows, but you could hear the loud grunts and shouts over the heavy metal music they were blasting. Heh. 

So all in all, I’d say dance classes in Berlin were a success! If you find yourself in the area, check out the studio!