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Souvenirs of Lisbon

May 18, 2016 | By | No Comments

One of the particularly enjoyable duties/joys I have in my life, since launching Dearsouvenir magazine, is to scout for great souvenirs and souvenir shops wherever I go: Makers of traditional goods, local designers, haberdashers and the like.

Before they even make it to the magazine, here’s a few early finds after a day of roaming the streets of Lisbon:

Baixa/Chiado

The beauty of A Vida Portuguesa (link, map), a shop selling traditional local goods. An absolute must-see, and one of the most gorgeous & lovely stores I’ve ever set foot in. By the time I left I had (happily!) bought olive oil with piri piri (hot peppers), hand made notepads in bright yellow, tooth paste and hand cream, two types of conservas de peixe (canned fish). Admittedly, the latter mostly for the packaging, which is gorgeous (sorry, fish!).

Lisbon souvenirs
First haul of Portugal souvenirs. Success!

Portugal is huge on wool. Burel Factory (link, Rua Serpa Pinto, 15Bmap) makes contemporary designs out of wool. It’s all very high quality, great to the touch, just a pure joy. In terms of products pick up anything from scarves and blankets, from toys to boots, from jackets to baseball hats. Yes, all from wool.

Principe Real

The Entretanto indoor market (map) is the home to Stro (link), a young Portuguese fashion and design brand. Go here for a playful, fresh take on traditional Portuguese design.

You’ll also find many of these and some more pointers in this Dearsouvenir Jauntful map for Lisbon.

This post is going to be extended over the next couple of weeks.

Arrived in Lisbon

May 18, 2016 | By | No Comments

Arrived in Lisbon. It’s 5am and I’m wide awake. The sky hasn’t quite begun to lighten up. It’s a quiet and windy night. As I’m standing on the balcony a single cab quietly drives by. The neighbors are drying dresses and blankets off the balcony. I wonder why I can’t smell the sea.

**

First days are for wandering, so wander I did. M and I are in town to work, but work remotely: Different rules apply. We require desks and reliable wifi and coffee supplies, the things the nomadic knowledge worker needs. Where and how to best source those we haven’t yet sorted out. Most likely a mix of home office, coffee shops, coworking spaces and friends’ desks. Third places all around, and a context that allows to go with the flow, maybe even requires it.

Lisbon market
The (excellent) food court at Lisbon’s market halls.

Fabrica Coffee Rosters is a definite keeper, their cold brews have been helping me kickstart the day since we arrived. A massive market hall food court (run, bizarrely, by Time Out magazine) is great for dinners. Cafés to write in are widely available. Our balcony overlooks the city, we can see the see and Bairro Alto while working in the shade.

**

Our neighborhood may not have a name: It’s residential, cute, lively in a non-touristy way. Sandwiched kind of between and a bit to the north of Bairro Alto and Alfama it doesn’t show up in any guide books – it seems like it might be called Estefania, but we can’t be sure. Sitting squat between not two but three hospitals it feels like we’re in the safest place you could possible be in case of an emergency. Why there are three hospitals so closely together will forever be a mystery to me. There’s also a gelato place; I haven’t been but it looks great.

**

The first day I compiled a whole bunch of shops I wanted to scout out for Dearsouvenir. I started the tour on day 2 with Baixa & Chiado, two neighborhoods smack in the center, full of shops and throngs of tourists; in my mind both of them blend together as I don’t yet have an understanding of where neighborhoods start and end.

It made for a nice stroll in the afternoon sun. Two things struck me as odd, though.

First, many of the shops seem to have moved or closed: One, by a famous Portuguese fashion designer, had been replaced by a New Balance store. There’s this beautiful, very old store front, all creaky old dark wood and glass, it screams traditional architecture, and it’s full with New Balance’s take on athleisure. Others were boarded up or dusty and under renovation: Just the regular turnover? The shop’s moved? Or the lasting impact of the economic crisis which hit Portugal especially hard?

Second, Google Maps data was often a block off, even smack in the city. There it shows me the house number on this block while really it’s on that one over there. It’s not something we’re really used to these days, is it? On rural roads I wasn’t too surprised to experience this, but in Lisbon itself I was a little shocked. Is it possible that Google just bought very mediocre map data for all of Portugal and never mapped out the country themselves?

**

Looking for a good flow through the day – spots to write at, take calls from, etc. – led us to LX Factory, a re-developed former industrial site that’s not, for lack of a better word, a creative-industrial site.

And what a gorgeous place it is. The local coworking space seemed a bit crammed and busy when we swung by, but the cafés and local designer shops are just lovely. Make sure to stop by Wish Café for a filter coffee and a muffin.

Portugal travel log – Algarve

May 18, 2016 | By | No Comments

I try to write down first impressions while they’re fresh: There’s a day or two in which the colors, the noises, the smells of a place are new and unusual; then the brain adjusts and it becomes a regular place. Those early days are the best to take photos, too: Things you notice as standing out still do stand out. Wait for a couple of days and they’ll blend in as the mind adjusts.

**

Arriving at Lisbon airport is quite lovely: It’s a tiny airport given the size of the city it serves. (Cue Berlin airport jokes.) A few minutes later we pick up our little rental car, happily surprised by just how well the car rental staff speak English, and are on our way south.

**

Stork nests. There are so many stork nests. An unbelievable number of stork nests.

When I grew up, one of the most exciting things on our loooong drive to our summer vacations at the North Sea was to see a couple of stork nests – if we were lucky! – during the last couple of hours drive up in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northern-most state. Occasionaly throughout my life I saw them elsewhere; mostly in or around zoos.

Yet here we are, surrounded by stork nests left, right and center. The electricity poles along the highway are packed with them. It’s like rats in the cities only, you know, with storks. Unbelievable. I can’t tell why that strikes me as unfair or even unexpected, but somehow it does.

**

The blue and white of Portugal. It’s maybe the most ubiquitous and most traditional of color combinations, and found wherever your eyes might wander. Tiles, table cloth, tiles on floors, restaurant signs, tiles of walls, tiles at souvenir stalls… come to think of it, maybe the tiles are even more ubiquitous than the blue and white.

Tiles
Portugal is all tiled, mostly in blue and white.

**

When I visited the Algarve a few years ago for some surfing with a friend, we stayed in a tiny village by the name of Odeceixe. It had two restaurants we went to frequently: The very traditional, top-notch Taberna do Gabao, which excelled in seafood and meats and was great for all-night group dinners with new friends we met along the way. And a more modern, slightly fusion-y place that made light and most excellent mediterranean meals: I wanted to go there just about every day. (I drove by that town on the way back up to Lisbon and it looks like the latter place has closed.)

What I somehow failed to realize at the time is that this sample of two did not reflect the state of eating in Portugal. The seafood here is amazing; meats are a treat. Yet, the style of preparation seems to be very traditional, bordering on formulaic: Grill the fish/meat item, serve with rice or fries. Sauces are rare, marinated things are rare. Salads are (very) basic, vegetarian options are sparse. Olive oil is fantastic – if I dip my bread into the oil here I’m in heaven – as are the olives you’ll inevitable be served as a little starter.

It’s a cuisine I thorougly enjoy indulging in every now and then. On an everyday basis it can be daunting, especially for a vegetarian like M, but even for meat eaters.

Between croissants and pastel del nata, between all the rice and fries and bread, the trick seems to be to temporarily forget just about all you ever learned about carbs and just roll with it. In the meantime both M and I were quite excited to have discovered a great vegetarian place around the corner.

**

It’s easy to forget these days how much we’re used to having navigation data at our fingertips at any time: Google Maps plus GPS means we never really need maps. I still remember road trips meant packing a big-ass map or atlas of sorts: I’m not nostalgic for it, if anything it tells you my age.

But data is not distributed evenly, and not all data is created equal.

Trying to swing by a restaurant on a cliff for a dinner over sunset, Google took us offroad in a way I hadn’t been in a while. Turns out that Google’s map data for rural Portugal is very, very flimsy.

Navigating
Google’s road map data in rural Portugal seems patchy at best. This is the kinda-sorta real road we returned to after a long stint on an extremely poor mud road.

The road Google Maps took us on was distinctly 2-3 level beyond the one pictured above: I took that photo only after we were back on an actual road. Before (and before turning around and very slowly backtracking) we were on a gravel road. Before that, on a dirt road. Before that on a dirt road with ruts so deep I’m tempted to call it a rutty cow path: For hiking it would have been acceptable just so. For anything on wheels, absolutely not.

**

Sagres Point is the most South-western point of continental Europe. It’s from around here that the Portuguese maritime exploration of the world was launched.

Today, a food truck offering (in German) “Die letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika” – the last bratwurst until America added a bit of a sad touch to an otherwise beautiful scene.

Sagres
“Last bratworst until America”, the sad food truck announced.

Truth be told, though, the view from the cliff inside the fort (Fortaleza de Sagres) about a kilometer down the road feels more like the real deal. (The fort is totally worth it.) It’s not technically the most South-western point, but because the view is totally unobstructed (there’s no fenced off lighthouse in the way and you can roam freely) means you can stand at the edge of the cliff and look West and let your imagination roam freely. If you have to choose, go there instead!

Sagres
Fort Sagres may not be technically the very most south-western point of contintental Europe, but with its unobstructed views it feels like the real deal compared to Sagres Point up the road.

**

This trip is another chance to test our Prototype Pants, this time in both warmer and (very!) wet climate. M now has her’s too, for the first time. I’m curious to learn how they hold up in warmer climate: Will they be as comfortable as in the cooler climates of Helsinki, Berlin, London?

Portugal
Testing both prototype pants under extreme conditions, aka a couch break.

On a hike we finally did manage to get them soaked through; to be fair, so were our rain jackets. The Algarve has had a record bad weather for months: The dive center hadn’t been out in the water for two months straight, almost every day of our stay had a severe weather warning.

So far, so good: Still convinced by the prototypes.

**

The last two days the weather let up, from severe weather warnings to lovely and sunny. I celebrated with a day of surfing, Michelle went to scuba dive. As we drove up to Lisbon we headed into the summer.

The network provides: Lisbon

May 17, 2016 | By | No Comments

As we’re setting up shop in Lisbon, Portugal for a few weeks, I did what has become a beloved and much appreciated – really, priceless – ritual: I took to Twitter and asked for recommendations.

It’s a deliberately open question so as not to artificially restrict the kind of pointers coming in: A personal recommendation for a restaurant, an experience not to be missed, a memory shared – all is welcome!

Read More

19 Apr

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Milan during Fuori Salone

April 19, 2016 | By |

So, Milan, eh? Turns out I had never been to Milan. To be honest it had never really occured to me, actively, that I hadn’t been: It’s such a household name of a city when you live in Europe that surely I must have been there, right? In all those years, throughout the many trips I’ve taken to Italy both as an adult and as a kid with my family?

After all, I grew up in south Germany, from where Italy is just a long drive across the Alps. When I was a kid, before the Euro was introduced, traveling in Europe meant stopping at border stops with little border control guard houses where you stopped and then bought gas and maybe a vignette, the road tax disc for countries like Austria. While you stopped you also changed money, deutschmark for lira, as a kid that was super exciting: Look at these different bills. In Italy they had so many 000s: 1.000 Lira was the smallest bill. I don’t remember if coins were even used then. But drive to Italy we did – not super often, but every few years: to Florence, Rome, the Lago Maggiore. It was great.

But yeah, turns out Milan had been a white spot on my personal travel map all these years. So boy was it time to change that.

Glorious view of the Alps
The Alps looked gorgeous from the plane.

And what a better occasion than to bring one of our projects there: The Good Home was to exhibit at Fuori Salone, the city-wide satellite program of the Milan Design Week. This occasion also had a second advantage – our tour guide would be good friend and former Milan resident Alex DS, so we knew we’d be in great hands.

So M and I set out with our exhibits in tow and over-sized checked bags (when exhibiting something it’s silly to travel too light: there’s always hardware to shuttle back and forth) and headed on south via Schönefeld (SXF). Air travel to and from Berlin these days is impossible without constantly pondering airports: Which one is it going to be today (please let it be Tegel!), and why isn’t the under-construction BER anywhere near finished after all these years? But alas, Easyjet means Schönefeld, so off we went into the special hell that is SXF where budget air travel truly feels like a cheap experience.

Arrivi
Arrivi!

Berlin of course isn’t the only multi-airport city: Milan also boasts two functional airports, Linate and Malpensa. Once we arrived in cute little ruggedy Malpensa (MXP) and found our way into the city we set up shop in our local Airbnb. The hotel and rental situation was in line with the universal rule of expo cities during the main annual convention: Everything’s booked out, demand is huge, so whoever can do so will rent out their homes temporarily and make a killing doing it. During those couple of weeks a year you can easily make a few months’ worth of rent. It was all pleasant enough, though, so why complain!

And so we made sure to adjust ourselves by quickly popping into a neighborhood pizza place before the kitchen would close (sharp!) at 2:30pm.

Hello there Milan
Welcome pizza.

A local friend further hooked us up with local prosecco and this Sartorelli cake from Verese, which turned out to be delicious and a bit of a life saver when you come home late at night and haven’t had a chance to eat.
Local noms
Lovely baked specialties from Verese, apparently invented in the 1960s as a marketing ploy. And oh boy what a delicious marketing ploy.

But of course Milan isn’t just quick sugar hits and delicious pizza.

It’s also the home of the grand tradition of the aperitivo. Every late afternoon, usually around 5pm, many bars will offer aperitivo: Drinks, slightly more expensive than usual, and a buffet of snacks. The idea is that between end-of-work around 5 and dinner around 8 or 9 there are a few hours in which to socialize and hang out, and to eat a little. You can guess that for students this is brilliant. But it’s also a lovely tradition in its own right, especially now that the weather allows for beautiful sunset aperitivos.

Alas, the air quality in Milan is notoriously bad, with near-ridiculous standards of pollution (for European standards). And while there are a number of gorgeous parks, overall the city isn’t very green. The canals that bring fresh water into and out of the system, once designed by no lesser than Leanardi da Vinci, have long since been built over to they’re invisible and won’t bring any refreshment to the dry, dusty air…

On the other hand, there is of course the duomo, the big cathedral that dominates the central square in all its glamour. And boy is Milan a glamorous city, especially during the design week: The world’s design and fashion scene invade the city and fill it with sharp suits and designer specs, with hyper trendy handbags and rad haircuts. It’s not for the easily intimidated to be in a city full of Italian style at its strongest.

We were there exactly for this design fair, and whenever we weren’t hosting at our own exhibition we went out to explore what else was on display. Now Italy is of course well known for its long and deep tradition of interior design: Kitchens, furniture, you name it. But, boy oh boy, did I underestimate just how much so. I saw so many chairs, and sofas, and room setups, and high-end sinks that I lost track. Everything at the Milan Design Week seemed ot be framed from the perspective of interior design. Even the connected things we were primarily in town for: Look it’s a kitchen with connectivity, but mostly it’s gorgeous. Everything’s built to be gorgeous bordering on decadent, and clearly it’s not a minimalist form follows function world there.

Milanese breakfast
Milanese breakfast at its best

There’s certainly enough to see, though, and if you ever get tired of looking at chairs, it’s an amazing place for people watching. Grab a coffee and a croissant at a street café and you won’t be bored. Promise.

Navigli
The Navigli neighborhood of Milan

So if the pollution and the over-the-top glamour don’t faze you, though, you can have the loveliest of times, though. Take an aperitivo with friends, then head down to the Navigli, the part of town where the old canals are open and where all of Milan and seemingly half the universe gather for a stroll, a lengthy dinner, and a cone of gelato artigianale (hand-crafted gelato). The streets and sidewalks are packed to the rim, laughter and intense conversations echo across town, and it’s a delight to be alive and in this place.

15 Mar

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Destination Helsinki

March 15, 2016 | By |

Until 2014, I had never set foot in Finland. Since then it’s become a constant companion in my life.

This first visit was during a summer roadtrip. M and I decided to fly to Stockholm and drive north through Sweden, into the Arctic Circle and through Lapland, and then back south in Finland all the way to Helsinki.

Map of Nordic countries Finland isn’t part of Scandinavia but of the Nordic countries. This is, roughly, the roadtrip we undertook in 2014. There was a lot of driving involved.

It was an epic road trip, a couple of weeks of driving, cycling, hiking. There was at least one whole day hike during which we encountered exactly one family and not another person besides: In the Arctic Circle you can find serious tranquility and isolation. At the same time, we saw reindeers. A lot of reindeers.

Reindeer

Once we were back south in Helsinki, of course, we were right back in the bustle of a modern city with tons going on despite it being rather mid-sized (some 600K population), and an especially lively food, coffee & craft beer scene.

Just after this trip, good friend Sami kindly invited me to join him as co-chair for a conference (Interaction16), so from then on out I had the good fortune to get to know a great group of Fins and expats in Finland during lots of calls and visits, and of course most recently during the conference itself.

Interaction16 team at afterparty The Interaction16 team. What a fantastic group of people. As a side note, I’d love to reference this pic but honestly can’t figure out anymore who took it, or on whose phone.

There’s something that’s always struck me as slightly different in Helsinki, or maybe unexpected is the better word. All too easily Finland gets tossed in with the Scandinavian countries and all associations that go with it, like cute and gorgeous traditional northern European medieval-ish city layouts featuring palaces and parks and the works.

But Finland isn’t really Scandinavia. (It’s part of the Nordics instead. Confused? Here’s a great short video primer.) It also never had a monarchy and is a relatively young country if you count from their independence, so no palaces. It’s also very far east with close historic ties to Russia (relationship status: it’s complicated), and there’s a strong lingering flavor of distinctly old-school socialist architecture on display throughout Helsinki.

So we’ve established that Helsinki doesn’t look like Stockholm or Copenhagen. But oh boy do Helsinkians serve good craft beer and burgers.

In related news, I encountered a mystery dish apparently called Försmack Vorsmack (thanks for the correction, Ville!), which supposedly is a traditional local dish based on lots of different types of meat, potatoes, and heavy use of a blender. But I couldn’t confirm this 100%.

Vorsmack (?)
Vorsmack. You’re supposed to mix it all up, but let’s stick to the photo of the dish pre-mixing, because reasons.

What’s more, everything in Helsinki just works. Let me give you an example: Airport shuttle train. Two years ago during our first visit, there was none. Now there is one. It was planned and completed on time and (I’d assume) on budget, even though the station under the airport is cut/blown out of solid rock. It’s affordable: €5.50 for a single ride into town, which is about half-way between an espresso and a pint of beer. It’s reasonably fast, with about 30-40 minutes from the airport to Helsinki main station smack in the middle of the city. What’s more, it’s impossible to get lost: The moment you leave the plane, signage and floor markers guide you to the platform smoothly, you pick up a ticket along the way, and once you get to the station all the trains go to downtown Helsinki – as far as I can tell it’s impossible to get on the wrong train.

Interaction16
Helsinki Airport shuttle train. Cheap, fast, easy. As it should be.

You might think that’s unremarkable; for me it’s anything but. After all, please consider I live in Berlin, a city that has three airports: Tegel (TXL), which works well despite running well beyond its passenger limit, but doesn’t have any type of rail connection. The forever-under-construction international airport BER which seems to have a decent train connection but isn’t operational at all yet (and won’t be for at least another couple of years as it’s years behind schedule). And Schönefeld (SXF), which is a shitty airport with an even shittier train connection. (For completeness’ sake let’s also mention the former airport Tempelhof, which now is a giant inner-city park, smack in the city, with great subway connections.)

Berlin Airports Berlin’s various airports. A story of facepalms. Except Tempelhofer Feld on the site of former Tempelhof Airport, which is great.

So go stay in Kallio for a nice lively city experience, or if you prefer a more formal setting I’d recommend the Radisson Blu Plaza. As location goes it doesn’t get more central than that, and the hotel will always have a spot close to my heart: When one night I entered just before midnight to check in after a long day of work and a dinner with the team, the lobby was empty except for an older night concierge. After establishing that I wasn’t Finnish, he kindly introduced me to the Finnish tradition of the morning sauna (open at 7:30am): A round of sauna just before breakfast. It’s supposed to energize and clean the body, and most certainly is the best way to start the day.

You’ll find plenty of excellent coffee shops (Good Life is an all-time favorite of mine), more craft beer than you can drink, and some damn fine Nordic cuisine.

If you have a chance, any chance at all, to visit Helsinki, don’t think twice about it: Just go!

14 Mar

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Prototype Pants #1

March 14, 2016 | By |

Over the last few months I’ve been on a bit of a performance wear kick. The reason is simple: I travel a lot. Michelle travels even more. The thing that most improves the travel experience (for me) is packing light. And the key to light packing is a set of clothes that gracefully handles all kinds of situations (more on that below) and still looks good, giving you peace of mind no matter what.

Getting this right is a bit of a holy grail – if done right it means that you need to pack a lot less – a pair or two of trousers max, no matter if you’re on the road for a couple of days or a month. A real life saver.

Luckily there is by now a selection of great, versatile fabrics that do fit that description: Light weight, non-wrinkle, quick-drying, breathable, wicking, comfortable. There’s also a very small, but growing group of companies that have started using those fabrics to produce clothes that look great.

Not so luckily, they’re almost all in the US which makes buying their stuff in Europe really hard and expensive; and almost none of them produce anything for women at all.

So on a whim M & I got ourselves a big roll of fabric from an outdoor company in Switzerland and worked with fantastic fashion designer (and friend) Cecilia Palmer (founder of sustainability/upcycling label Pamoyo) to create a pair of Prototype Pants for women. (A note to our British friends: We’re not talking about underwear. You might prefer to think of them as Test Trousers.)

Sample materials
Fabric samples

Prototype Pants Women #1
Prototype Pants #1 Women

Once we started the whole process, I got excited and a little jealous, so we also added a pair for men.

I’ve been beta-testing this first kinda-sorta-production ready pair of prototype pants for a few weeks now, and boy am I in love with them.

To give you an idea: They’re incredibly comfy to wear. They travel really well, meaning you can pull them out of your bag and wear them right away, no wrinkles or anything. They’ve got a little stretch, so if you cycle it’s really convenient. Also, for good measure they are water repellent, so if you get caught in the drizzle on the way, or if you spontaneously go on a day hike or so, no worries at all. Magic pants!

Prototype Pants

Prototype PantsPrototype Pants

I’m especially happy that I got to test them under exactly the kind of circumstances and contexts we intended them for: Traveling, with some professional use and some action thrown in. And because testing behind closed doors and under controlled conditions is boring, I took them out for a spin in public. In fact, very much in public: Onstage while chairing Interaction16, a design conference with over 1000 people at lovely Finlandia Hall, Helsinki.

Untitled
Onstage at Interaction16

Prototype Pants
Onstage at Interaction16

Prototype PantsPrototype Pants
Taking them out for a spin on the augmented climbing wall at Interaction16.

Now they’re prototypes, but it feels like one more iteration is all it takes before we can think about next steps. Frankly, I could keep wearing them 24/7. Another few weeks of testing and another iteration and we might just start making a larger batch. It’s super exciting to see this come together.