Berlin, Take Two

I arrived back in Berlin and was hit with how happy I was to be there. It’s such a cool place to be, and yet I know I’ve only just scratched the surface. It was the end of my holiday, which had started in Prague with Dresden in the middle; Berlin seemed a suiting place to end my journey, as I knew it would be a good combination of solitary time but also time spent with friends and meeting new people. Visiting with friends proved just as wonderful as I anticipated -rooftop picnics, urban foraging (courtesy of http://mundraub.org/map, which directs you to free food), sitting along the Spree, and lots of wine and wonderful food. I was also introduced to others whose company we enjoyed -refugees who shared stories that were difficult to comprehend and new words we were eager to learn, and other travellers who shared their own stories of adventure and thoughts about the world.

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My time alone was important as well, as I feel I’m reflecting on my own experiences, and have grown comfortable with being solo. I have come to a new appreciation of solitary time, and was grateful to reclaim some of it in Berlin. I could have spent an entire day at the Käthe Kollwitz museum; though she had a profoundly sad life and experienced much loss, she seemed to remain hopeful and maintained an appreciation for life and energy. I felt drawn in to her work in a way that made it difficult to tear myself away from some of her prints and drawings. There is a quality to them that kept me rooted to the spot. Kollwitz is a remarkable woman, and I found her views on pacifism interesting, as she said it is not about waiting, but “work, hard work”.  And the fact that she worked very hard and advocated for hard work was evident. Her ability to express depictions of and fight against social inequality were impressive and moving, and will certainly stay with me.

Though Berlin was a haven for someone interested in sustainable food movements, Dresden surprised me for its own innovation and projects. An especially amazing place is Lose (http://www.lose-dresden.de/), a food store that avoids waste by having customers fill their own re-usable containers with food instead of purchasing packaged goods. I was giddy with excitement, and loaded up on hemp hearts in my travel container as I inquired about the difficulties the owner faced when she opened and what it has been like for her since then. It’s such an exciting concept, and one that raises my hopes as well as many questions.

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I enjoyed Dresden, with its very disparate areas on either side of the Elbe. I landed myself in a really cool neighbourhood that had a bohemian and lively vibe, even late at night; it was bursting with veggie restaurants, market stands, coffee shops, and bars. The atmosphere was energetic yet easy-going, and it was amongst the little shops and brightly graffitied buildings that I had some of the best organic rye bread…until I had some in Berlin from SoLuna Brot und Oel…100% rye with sunflower seeds…with a deliciously sour taste.

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And, in this reverse narrative, I will end with Prague, where I couchsurfed with a woman who teaches at a kindergarden where I was lucky enough to visit! I was in the Vinohrady district, a welcome change from the old town which was packed, though of course still holds its own charms. The streets in Vinohrady were steep and cobbled, making the city an unwelcome one for cyclists, but charming for ambling pedestrians. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the booming health scene in Prague, and even more impressed by the raw food dinner I had at a restaurant close to my host. It is a city with a seemingly unlimited amount of stunning views, and brimming with many treasures to discover, such as the many cafés with incredible coffee and little food hideaways….like Vrsovicky Zahradni Klub where there’s a little bar with funky music, organic produce from a local farm, and various events bringing in artists from nearby.

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Berlin, Take One

Lately I have been reflecting on the connections we make while travelling, and the friendships that sometimes develop. I have met people in Dublin who I now consider very dear friends, and some that I believe I will stay in touch with throughout my life. There is something very special about meeting someone who you feel you have known much longer than the brief period that you have known them. One such friend is someone I met at a dinner in Dublin that was raising money for a local charity. We talked as if we were old friends just reunited, and since then we have been very close.

I have also had a couple recent couchsurfing experiences that introduced me to some amazing people…in Berlin, I stayed with a fellow veggie who was a fantastic cook with a great outlook on life. We shared food, stories, music, wine, walks, drinks, and relaxing moments in the park. It is amazing to arrive in a new city and begin learning from a local about the food practices, the co-ops nearby, food advocacy initiatives, and the challenges as well as pleasures of caring about your food and where it comes from. My host introduced me to “food sharing”, an initiative that links people to restaurants, bakeries, and various food-producing places around the city that have excess food they have no use for. While I was in Berlin I had the pleasure of sharing a vegan meal with my host and her friend that was sourced from such a Food Sharing restaurant that had loft-over food from a brunch. It was incredible…to eat good food of course, but also to become aware of such a fantastic program!

I also heard tell of public fridges in Berlin where food from Food Sharing is dropped off, and where all sorts of people can go and benefit from the bounty. I was bowled over by the simplicity of reducing waste in such a way, and though I had a host of questions, it seems to work, and that is such a wonderful thing to behold.

It was special to visit a city and feel like I was visiting  friend instead of being in a new city on my own for the first time, as I was. Berlin is a city full of relaxing parks, colourful graffiti-ed buildings and walls, a wonderful slow food culture, and, I feel, is a city to discover as a leisurely pace; so, I will return!

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Simple Eats, Pensive Walks, and Clarity

After some humming and hawing over my most recent adventure, I decided to take the plunge and take a week’s vacation on my own, and what a delight it was! It was difficult knowing what I needed before I left, but it quickly became apparent to me that I needed some time to myself to walk a different city and experience a change of pace. I’d been to Paris once before, but it’s a city that feels so full of history and vibrant with current happenings that it’s a place that you could return to time and time again and still feel that you’ve experienced new things and learned a bit more.

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I had some amazing food while in Paris, and many of my meals took the form of a picnic by a canal, the Seine, or in a park. They were simple affairs, but accompanied with a bit of French wine they were always delicious and very fresh. I picked up lots of my food at markets, where I often lost track of time wandering through the stalls and admiring the heaping piles of food. 
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Sometimes it takes a step back or a change of scenery to gain some clarity of mind. There are certainly aspects of Ireland that I appreciate, and I have made some wonderful friends, but I’ve never felt settled here or like it is where I belong. As I travel I feel drawn to some places more than others, and my time in Paris really helped me realize that it’s time for me to move on instead of trying to push myself to enjoy a place that I feel ready to leave.

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Seasonal Eating and Eating Seasonally

Eating for the seasons conjures memories of fall harvests of squash and pumpkins, winter root veggies, spring rhubarb and fiddleheads, and summer berries and sweet corn. Of course, eating seasonally signifies something different to every culture and person; when I questioned one of my flatmates, he talked of potatoes in the winter, kale and lettuce in the summer, and picking blackberries as a kid during the warmer months. Though we might all have different ideas of what ‘seasonal food’ is, I think that the same underlying values of celebrating local food that has had few miles to travel is what underlies this instinctive way of eating.

Yet I cannot help but expand on what seasonal eating means. Though it is June here, it certainly feels a lot more like an Ontario fall than an Ontario summer, so I’ve found myself drawn toward my own ‘traditional’ fall foods than summer ones. Maybe this isn’t so much seasonal eating as it is intuitive eating, but it has had me mulling over the different motivations we have for the foods that we eat…beyond the regular health/ethical/environmental motivations that I’m usually pondering!

So, here you are, two very different ‘seasonal’ meals that have blossomed from my musings:

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Lentil soup with seasonal spring/summer nettle and Irish seaweed.

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Stuffed butternut squash, the roots of which can be traced back to wanting satisfying and hearty foods during chilly and blustery fall days…that tend to crop up every other Irish summer day!

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free. ”

What a wonderful week to be in the Republic of Ireland! There have been many toasts, tears, and positive vibes pulsing through the city after the recent majority victory for the Yes side. It was really cool to see so many people with Yes posters by the canal leading up to the vote, and very heartening to hear them engaging with people as they walked or cycled by. The No posters were difficult to see and very hurtful; but more interesting I think were the responses that challenged the No dialogue and the discussion and passionate responses that the posters generated. Not only do laws need to change, but attitudes do as well, so let the conversations continue!

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Terra Ferments

I’ve been thinking a lot about settling in to new places and becoming comfortable with new living routines. For me, a big part of adjusting to being in a new place is finding new foods that I like and new food sources. I always relish the thrill of discovering a new produce farmer, or foods that have been produced locally, especially the ones that have been created with an eye for sustainability and the interconnections between our food, the environment, and the many beings on this earth. There’s also a joy in settling in to a place enough to be able to begin tackling more food projects, such as ones that entail dehydrating, soaking, sprouting…or all of the above. When I left Canada I also left behind little jars of fermenting food and cultures that I hope are still thriving; but since arriving in Dublin I haven’t been up to my regular fermenting speed. Most of that has been because I’ve been moving around so much, but now that I have flatmates that tolerate my composting, bean soaking, and constant cooking of often unheard of foods, I have been delving back in to the world of fermenting a bit more.

I’ve never made milk kefir, likely because I rarely have dairy, but since I’m working at a health food store that sells raw milk, and am working with people who are all sharing cultures, SCOBYs, and water/milk kefir grains, I decided to give it a shot. And I can say that I’ve had success! For some reason, the less I fuss about my ferments, the more successful they seem to be. So I just let the grains do their things, and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Here is a happy little pile of kefir in an old sauerkraut jar…

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Spring and the Causeway Coast

The season has begun to shift toward spring; though it’s not quite as dramatic a shift as what we experience in Canada, the longer days and warmer weather are certainly welcome and bring a new energy to the city. There are daffodils sprouting and many trees that are in new bloom. I can’t help but miss Canada at this time of year…though as I’ve heard you had snow on the ground recently, so I’ll save my nostalgic feelings for when it becomes a bit warmer.

Joelle and I visited the Temple Bar market for the first time, and I was quite impressed. I had been told that it wasn’t a “true” farmers’ market, and while that might be true in some ways, there are a couple gems that certainly make the trip worthwhile. Plus, on a nice day, the trip is worth it just to enjoy the buzz downtown, the sunshine, and possibly street musicians. The McNally Family Farm booth is my favourite, as they have plentiful fresh greens, which are rather hard to come by here…purslane, spinach, chard (!), dandelion leaves…I’ve come home with a huge green bouquet. Tonight’s meal was a lovely dandelion veggie stew with week-long fermented rye sourdough. I think I’ll be eating greens with all my meals for the next few days 🙂DSC05454DSC05452

We headed for a weekend visit in Belfast and the Causeway coast. We lucked out with wonderfully warm weather and blue skies. The differences between Belfast and Dublin were interesting to note; for example, we found that in Belfast the roads were wider and many buildings were modern and were also taller. The Botanic Gardens in Queens University were splendid, with many blooming flowers and people enjoying the sun. There we also visited the Ulster Museum, a fascinating place housing powerful history exhibits. The World War I posters were a reminder of the pressure placed on Irish men to enlist and they portrayed the guilt tactics and promises of pride and glory. Many posters were also aimed at women, pressuring them to tell the men to go to war and not hold them back. It was an unsettling view into a time in history that I can scarcely imagine. The museum also housed a very moving exhibit on The Troubles, which are a part of the not so distant history of Belfast. The city has a sad and horrific history, and it was strange to stand at the waterfront and imagine the Titanic departing over 100 years ago.

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The countryside and seaside North of Belfast is very beautiful; Giant’s Causeway is impressive and breathtaking, and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge area was just as stunning, and provided a peaceful and calming place the kick off our shoes and sit for a while.

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Visits

Well it’s been a while since I last wrote, and I’ve certainly been feeling the itch to do a blog post! My parents came for a visit this past week and we had a grand time together…drinks in pubs, walking the city, exploring museums and historical sites, a visit to the Galway region, and lots of good food and company.

It was fun showing my parents around Dublin and being able to navigate…though it’s become apparent that my sense of direction is not all that great and I tend to underestimate -ok, vastly underestimate- how long it will take to walk from one place to the next. In the first few days we walked the city, visited the Archaeology Museum, the Yeats exhibit, and took a short day trip to Greystones and the wonderful Happy Pear restaurant, and of course shared pints at cozy Irish pubs. Ah, and I’ve finally made it to the iconic Temple Bar (can you spot me? photo courtesy of photographer Paul Duchene :-).

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We took off for the weekend to Galway where we rented a car and drove the countryside. After a quick stop at the Galway market for nibbles in the pouring rain we went for a drive to Ross Errilly Friary. We arrived and were the only people there, which made it feel much more peaceful than when I was there last. The wind was howling away and it was a struggle to walk against it at times, but the noise the wind made as it wound its way through the friary was haunting, mournful, and melodious. What a beautiful and preserved place. When we left the friary we took a winding road which eventually led us to a crumbling castle and moored boats on the Lough Corrib that were quickly filling with rain water.

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When we headed out the next morning the rain was pouring down, but it quickly turned to snow. So we drove around a bit until it subsided slightly and then we got out to explore a little village. As my dad said, if you don’t like the weather then wait five minutes. Blue sky began to peak through in the afternoon and there were many beautiful stops on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. The whole area is majestic and impressive, and the cliffs were certainly no exception. I loved watching the waves crash against the rocks and we were delighted to discover that ocean spray was carried up from below to shower us in droplets and mist.

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On our last day in Galway we went out for a walk by the ocean. I will never ceased to be impressed by the stone walls in the countryside.

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Upon arriving back in Dublin city we met up with Joelle and her parents. We enjoyed a trip to the Guinness factory, Dublin castle, and some great trad music at our local pub. It was a wonderful visit and I will certainly miss their company.

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In the last couple of days in Dublin we’ve been enjoying sunny days in the teens 🙂 How about you, Canada?

Unhurried Fruition

It’s hard for me not to return again and again to the thought of what my next “step” is; to what program(s) do I want to apply?…who do I want to work with?…and it goes on. It’s easy to get caught up in such repetitive thinking, and though of course it’s important to continue to do research into what I might enjoy embarking on next, it’s also important to let those feelings simply sit and marinate so that I might enjoy where I’m at. As with many things, it’s easier said than done, but Pema Chödrön’s words resonate with me and have helped me to appreciate aspects of my life that I enjoy right now instead of thinking so much about what the future might hold.

Excerpt from Comfortable with Uncertainty:

‘Fruition’ implies that at some future time you will feel good. One of the most powerful Buddhist teachings is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you are oriented toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.

One of the deepest habitual patterns that we have is the feeling that the present moment is not good enough. We frequently think back to the past, which maybe was better than now, or perhaps worse. We also think ahead quite a bit to the future, always holding out hope that it will be a little bit better than now. Even if things are going really well now we usually don’t give ourselves credit for who we are in the present.

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Instead of looking for fruition, we could just try to stay with our open heart and open mind. This is very much oriented to the present. By entering into this kind of unconditional relationship with ourselves, we can begin to connect with the awake quality that we already have.

Of course I wish I felt as peaceful as this quote sounds about accepting my unknown future. I don’t expect to suddenly be able to embrace the unknown, but I think that these words were a good reminder that I can give myself a break from worrying about the future as much as I do. If I can learn to gently remind myself of Chödrön’s teaching, maybe I will be able to practice some acceptance of what I do not know and what is to come.

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Good Craic in Galway

A brief visit to Galway this past week was a wonderful change of pace. The city felt like a warm and homey town with vibrant night life. The first evening we arrived, after a walk around the harbour, Joelle and I headed to Tig Coili, a pub on the main street that heaved with live music. It felt good to sit down and get out of the biting cold. The music was very jolly, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

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We were lucky to have such a sunny, crisp, and clear day to explore Connemara, a beautiful area not too far from the city of Galway. The mountains were spectacular, and we felt inclined to hike off in many directions…the landscape begs to be explored. We stopped at Ross Errilly Friary (founded in 1351), where we wound our way through the many rooms of the medieval monastery and enjoyed views of the green hills extending all around us.

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In Cong, a nearby town, I loved the mink’s fishing house, which was set at such a peaceful spot in the river. It was easy to romanticize the idea of living near the river and spending each day fishing, though I imagine their lives were much more difficult than I picture them to have been.

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The sheep! Oh, the sheep! They were everywhere, dotting the hills and looking like little pieces of fluff caught here and there.

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From amongst the natural and rugged landscape rose Kylemore Abbey, a castle built by an Englishman from 1867 to 1871 after he and his wife spent their honeymoon in the region. In 1920 the castle and land were purchased by Benedictine nuns who turned the castle into a renowned boarding school, with the last student leaving a mere five years ago. It is an impressive and peaceful place, with a Victorian walled garden and beautiful mountain view.

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We finished our day with more pints in another pub, The Crane Bar, where we relaxed to trad music and soaked in the boisterous and friendly atmosphere. The mood was very easygoing, and as the night progressed musicians slowly trickled in and joined the circle to add to the music. It was a good way to wind down our short visit to the West coast.

As for settling back in Dublin, everything is going quite well! I like my new place and flatmates, and I am thrilled to be working at a health food cafe. My neighbourhood (and the weather) is perfect for running, and Joelle and I have shared some great meals, including a hearty red wine veg stew. On Sunday I checked out Fusion at the Dublin Food Coop, and was treated to live music, delicious smells and nibbles, and an artsy, friendly, community of people.