Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anyone still out there?


If so, here are a few pictures so you can enjoy New York as much as we are:

If you don't recognize this, you probably aren't our friend. :) It's Tom Diner from the song by Susanne Vega and "the restaurant" from Seinfeld.

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Batman and Newman at home

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I'm volunteering at a middle school and we visited Columbia. It was insane, as you might expect for middle school boys, but we were able to stop for a quick photo.

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And now for Central Park on marathon day

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Great Lawn, before we got kicked off because roadrunners aren't allowed

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Bats in the leaves

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Batman in the swings. He was swinging next to a little girl and they kept looking at each other. It was adorable. I think the girl's parents judged us a little. F- them, wasn't this picture worth it?

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

It really does taste of donut!

 Ok, I lied, at least one more post: we tried this for breakfast and it's SO INSANELY DELICIOUS AND EASY. And Nigella is so charming.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Running out of steam

Keeping with our July 6 post "Projections" - we were right on! One thing I would add that I love about being in the US again- books! I love the library, the Barnes and Noble, Amazon! The library still seems like it's too good to be true. You mean I can look at any book I want for free? And take it home and stuff? And you trust me to bring it back? Awesome! 

And I need those books, because this city is a time suck and there is a surprising amount of waiting and transition time. I think I was under the impression that transportation without a car is the same as quick transportation. After all, I just step outside and walk to the bus and end up on the other side of town, without getting on the highway. Conceptually, this is a quick trip. However, it actually takes forever, and at first I vastly underestimated my commute time. In my mind, getting to gymnastics class takes about 20 minutes. Actually, it takes 45 door to door. 5-10 walk to the subway, 5-10 wait, 20 minute ride, 10 minute walk from the stop. When I look back at my day, I always feel like I didn't accomplish enough. But the truth is, if I want to go anywhere out of my neighborhood, I spend usually 1-2 hours to get from A to B.

Today I was reading a book while I was walking home and some wiseguy said "Hey sweetheart, what are you reading there?" (pronounced hey sweethawt, whachu readin theyah) I could handle this, and kept a straight face and a straight stride. Then his friend said "Nothin about you!" I was not prepared for that! I started laughing and looked up from my book (Difficult Loves by Italo Calvino) and looked back and said, "He's right!"

And with that, this journal will probably begin its demise. I don't take my camera with me for day to day things and Nick has a job, how boring are we now?!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to find an apartment in New York City

 We are finally in (yet another) new apartment and just signed a 3 month lease. That will give us time to ship our stuff from Minneapolis and settle in a bit- then we'll initiate the hunt all over again! Moving cross country is expensive, even for a little place like ours. (Starting with three and ending with -ousand! Insanity!) I will save you our particular apartment drama, and instead will offer a glance at how to survive the alien world of renting an apartment here.

In a normal setting, apartment hunting is pretty straightforward. But New York is not a normal setting, and I thought people would find some of the "rules" interesting. 

Know what you want, and what you'll pay for. The trick is to get a place with the amenities that are important to you, but nothing more than that because every amenity is built into the price. What drives price in the NYC market? Crazy things. For example, laundry in unit exists in maybe 10% of available units. At first I thought this was a must, but now I realize that wash and fold service is cheap and awesome and plentiful, and laundry facility is a waste of valuable space. 

What drives price in NYC? To give you an idea of the base prices right now (which are actually favorable to renters) expect to pay at least $2200 for a 500 square foot one bedroom in a non doorman building. But here are some things to think about which I never thought about before with such scrutiny.

1- doorman- for security and to sign for packages, drycleaning, etc. (I'm starting to realize this is essential because I shop online alot.)
2- pet friendly- only about 20% of available rentals allow dogs. Cats are slightly easier. I consider this a gift, because I would go nuts if everything was available for us to look at!
3- proximity to subway (more than 3 blocks away is too far for my taste, because you do this walk at least twice a day!) If you're near an express subway station (vs just a local station) that is a huge bonus
4- proximity to green space (this mostly exists uptown near Central Park and other small parks)
5- proximity to retail, restaurants, etc. - trendy areas are downtown (Soho, Greenwich, etc.)
6- proximity to good grocery stores (lots of people just get Fresh Direct delivered. Again, you need a doorman to sign!)
7- proximity to midtown, where most people work- I happen to hate midtown because it's a wretched zoo of tourists, but some people want a very short commute
8- elevator vs. a walk up (can your lazy ass walk up 5 flights of stairs each day?)
9- kitchen space- most places have tiny kitchens since people eat out in New York- usually big kitchens are a detriment because it wastes living space. However, we have lots of kitchen gear, so for us, this is a must.
10- storage space- our first place where we stayed for 3 weeks only had two tiny closets, I don't know how a person could live there!
11- bathroom space- again, a big bathroom takes up valuable living space
12- noise issues- is the place facing an avenue (busy, loud, etc.) or a side street? Is it right above a bar? etc.
13- pest problems- is the mgmt good about exterminating? Check the bedbug registry to make sure there aren't bugs!
14- laundry in building (quarter machine) or in unit- some people pay big bucks for this!
15- layout and type of apartment- a smart layout can make a 400 sq. ft place preferable to a 600 sq. ft place. Also prewar buildings tend to be more spacious and have charming details like crown molding, built in bookshelves, thicker walls, etc.
16- living space- the size I view as "normal" is about 900-1000 sq. feet- this would easily cost 3K per month
17- air conditioning- most units have a window air conditioner if you're lucky. Expect to pay ConEd for that privilege, cuz energy isn't cheap either!
18- lighting and view- are you in the basement with no natural light? are you facing a wall? a whorehouse? Central Park?
19- neighborhood- each place has it's own reputation, vibe, and corresponding price so you need to narrow it down (eg Upper East Side- museums and old money, Upper West Side- strollerville, Chelsea- gay friendly and art galleries, etc. etc.)
20- trickery- a studio with a tiny loft that would kinda sorta fit a bed is not listed as a studio, it's a "Junior 1" or "Flex 1." A one bedroom with a cheap wall put up is a "Two bedroom, perfect for a share!" Due to financial reasons, a lot of people will find a complete stranger to be his/her roommate and look for a two bedroom, so a two bedroom can really run the gamut from crappy home projects to normal places. So in New York, if you want a one bedroom, look for a "true one bedroom." (Ha, as opposed to a false one bedroom! How stupid, right?!)

When you see an apartment you want, it's best to decide on it right away and apply right then so you don't lose it. So when you go see an apartment, you need to have these things ready so you can edge out any unprepared competitors:
1- copy of most recent tax return
2- letter from employer stating your salary- your annual gross salary needs to be 40x the monthly rent
3- credit score (or otherwise pay them to run a credit check)
4- letters of reference from landlord, and personal references
5- money! one month rent plus one month deposit

Some landlords are more strict, requiring salary at 50x rent, or 6 months liquidity, or that your employment history is at least one year long with your current employer. Renting directly from an owner is usually less strict and more flexible about the exact numbers. (Clearly we don't have one year employment in NYC.)

Timing
People don't give much notice, so usually a good place will be up a week to two weeks before it's available for move in. It also depends on the building- some put them up earlier and then spend a week repainting, redoing the floors (almost always hardwood), etc. If you see a place that interests you, you make an appointment to see it within a day if you're smart. Good places will usually go as fast as 1-2 days, so you always need to check and be ready to see something. It's stressful, but also an adventure because you don't know what will be posted tomorrow. You can go from hopeless to happy in a day!

Brokers
One other concept that was foreign to me is the idea of paying a real estate broker in order to rent an apartment. In a normal market, most places work with brokers and the renter needs to pay a broker fee, which amounts to 1-2 months rent! Some places only work with brokers, or give brokers exclusive listings. A broker basically just does a search of databases and will make appointments to show you a bunch of apartments. Basically, they charge 2-4K to do something that I can do myself. Luckily in the current market, a lot of landlords are paying the broker fee. You need to specifically look for apartments listed as "no fee" if you want to avoid paying a broker. 

Class is dismissed, and I imagine nobody will ever move to NYC after reading this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weather forecast for NYC- daily thunderstorms until August 7

Let's just say I did NOT move from the rainiest country in the world for THIS! Today I spent an extra two hours sitting in a place where I had lunch because it was pouring. And walked home barefoot and soaked because my shoes were too slippery to walk in. Boo hiss. And an empty apartment is no consolation- nothing to do, nothing to unpack, or organize, or read, or watch, and I'm lucky enough for the moments when I steal our neighbor's wi-fi. I know New Yorkers aren't supposed to say this, but I'm bored.

Small city, small world

I had a funny New York moment today, or maybe just a funny life moment. I was waiting for the subway, on my way to get a haircut, when I heard a couple of guys speaking Dutch. One of them sat next to me, and I started talking to him. Yes, I started talking to a complete stranger just because he was Dutch (from Haarlem), and I am sort of Dutch. (Funny that when I was in Maastricht and heard Americans, I usually went out of my way to avoid them.) But anyways, I chatted with the Dutchies for a couple of stops and said "Dooi" and went on my merry way.

Six hours later, in a completely different part of town a half hour away, I was walking to the library when I heard "that's her, that's her, HEY!" And again I chatted with the same two Dutchies about what they had seen that day, where I was going this time, and said "Dooi" and went on my merry way. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Moving to New York City

We've been here for a little more than a week, so I suppose it's a good time to mention our first observations before we're jaded and weary like everyone else here. :-)

The move itself was easier than expected. On the way to Europe, Newman scratched the hell out of Nick when he went through the metal detector, so we did all of this planning.... for nothing, because he was surprisingly good this time. Once again, the Germans at the airport fell madly in love with Batman and completely forgot their protocol. It was so funny to see the transformation. They began as stern, stony-faced, uniformed robots with a 25 letter badge ending in "polizei" who are supposed to be finding the liquids I snuck through. But when they see the dog, 4 of them gathered round-- "ooooooooooooohhhhhhh!!!! What kind is he! Oh my baby! Oh so cute! Oh mam, don't put him in the kennel, he can stay out. oooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh!!!"

So anyways, we got here easily enough on a Thursday, and found an apartment on a Friday, moved out of the hotel Saturday. And right after we decided to take the apartment, which is mostly unfurnished, we walked outside to find a freshly placed mattress. Insane! As my friend Carrie so succinctly put it, "I never imagined you as unemployed, with a pay as you go phone, sleeping on a mattress you found on the curb!" Believe it. We are pretty lucky, and in a happy spot for the time being. Batman is racking up vet bills and the money is going a heck of a lot faster than expected, so it's not perfect.... this is a good thing- perfection means you're just waiting for the other shoe to drop, right?

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The first week we've spent doing many touristy things, many involving food. One first order of business was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Grimaldi's pizzeria in Brooklyn. We had to wait in line for almost an hour and a half just to get inside and get a seat. It was totally worth it, this pizza will make you want to curl up in the fetal position and die right on the table. We're lucky to have made it out alive.

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View of Manhattan from the bridge

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The pizza!

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There is so much to eat in this city! Unbelievable cookies that taste even better than they look (not my picture)

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We also watched a free movie on a pier near the Hudson River, listened to the New York Philharmonic in Central Park, enjoyed a 5 course French dinner and toured the French Culinary Institute to celebrate Bastille Day, and caught up with old friends.

NYC Culture Shock:
- Seeing a movie at a theater costs 12.50 apiece!!! Weekends before noon it's only $6, so we will be getting up early for any cinematic needs from now on
- They list calorie contents for every menu item at restaurants. This is actually pretty cool because there are certain things that you quickly realize are not worth the nibble.
- We can speak English here! We got so used to English as automatically identifying us as tourists. We didn't even realize this, but we have been speaking to each other in hushed tones for about a year! The first few days we kept saying "Wait, why are we whispering? English is the language here!"
- Free water is awesome. I still buy a drink, I still can't get used to just ordering a water even if that's all I'm in the mood for.
- Lots of people are new to the city: we met up with an old high school buddy and she introduced us to some of her friends, many of whom have been living here less than a year. People here are pretty friendly, because most people are from somewhere else and identify with moving here, and there is a certain amount of openness required to stay here longer than a day or two. (Example: we were chased by a screaming old Chinese man who was wearing a dress and pigtails while pushing a shopping cart)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Greece: Athens

We only spent 2 nights in Athens but had a great time. Our hotel was lovely, and right near the Temple of Zeus and the Athens city gate. The rooftop restaurant where we spent our breakfasts had a view of the Acropolis, and was so lovely we had dinner there too! We spent most of our day walking around the sites, and then at night, went to an open air theater called Cine Paris. Ok, now for the picture binge.

Us at the Temple of Zeus, with the annoying redhead

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Temple of Zeus, different angle with Acropolis in the background

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Temple of Zeus at night, from our table

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Those who say it's a dog eat dog world-- there are tons of strays in Athens, and the little guy was cleaning the ticks off the big guy. What a pal.

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Parliament, where people take pictures near the motionless soldiers. We just couldn't do it, but this guy could!

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Shoes

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Various pictures of the Acroplis and Ancient Agora

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View of Athens from the Acropolis

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There is a lot of restoration going on. It's amazing how much time and detail it takes to restore such massive structures.

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Ha.

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Watching Public Enemies near the Acropolis

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Picture of the Acropolis from our table.

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I felt very grateful taking this picture. We have been insanely lucky, I only hope our good fortune continues in New York City, where I'm posting from!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greece: Milos

After Fira, we caught a ferry to Adamas, the port town of Milos island. While waiting for the ferry, we met another American couple, and spent a lot of our time in Milos with them. We took 2 ferries during our time in Greece, and they were surprisingly comfortable. They even had wireless internet in the middle of the sea! (In fact, I posted one of the prior entries from the ferry to Athens.) It was also interesting that there is some law regulating food and drink prices on the ferry so they can't rip you off! We only spent 2 nights in Milos. I was glad, because our hotel was awful and I was bombarded by mosquitos. The highlight was our day trip around the island. We got to stop a few times for swimming, and the views were incredible because the island has a lot of large natural formations.

The port of Adamas

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Nick jumping off the boat!

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A colorful town on Milos

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Hoorah for the ferry to Athens! It could hold a bus underneath!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Greece: Santorini

What's the first thing we did as unemployed people? Went to Greece of course! We started in Santorini. We stayed 3 nights in Fira, which is the main/busy town on the island. We also spent some time doing watersports (parasailing for me, scuba diving for both of us) on different beaches around the island, and spent a sunset in Oia, which is the "romantic" and quiet part on the north side of the island. Our last day, we walked down to the port for a cruise to the caldera (volcano) and hot springs. It was amazing- we got to climb to the top of an active volcano and feel the heat coming out! They can predict activity in the short term, so it's safe. It took about a half hour to climb up, and similar to the Eagle's Nest visit, I undertook this climbing adventure in flipflops.

Here is a photo inside the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Fira.

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Gotta love wine on tap!

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Me parasailing over the Aegean

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Colorful buildings in Oia

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Japanese tourists and 2 brave dogs lounging on rooftops in Oia

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On the way up the volcano.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Roma!

Another late entry! About a week before our last day of work, Nick and I headed for a long weekend in Rome. His dad's family was in Rome as well, before going on a whirlwind tour of Northern Italy. We had the days to ourselves and met them for dinners. We visited Rome 6 years ago, but we left many stones unturned, so we had a lot of fun doing the touristy things - Roman forum, Colosseum, etc. It was a short trip, but all the same, pretty amazing to hop a flight for a weekend in Rome for only 20 euros.

Roman Forum with a temporary modern sculpture exhibit

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Italian parallel parking- perpendicular parking! (Colosseum in the background)

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Us at the Colosseum after waiting in line ZERO minutes as compared to the suckers who waited 45 minutes. Tip: buy your tickets at the Roman Forum instead of the Colosseum!

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Derek's visit

Well, this is about a month late, but there is a good excuse. Let me explain. My brother and his friend Kristin visited about a month ago. They hung around Maastricht, and also went to Amsterdam, spent some time relaxing. Here's them near the Maas.

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But during the weekend, the four of us headed on a four hour roadtrip to Groningen, where my ancestors (dad's side) are from. We planned to meet one of our distant Dutch relatives at an airfield for a tour of our family's location. Here is us, full of hope!


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Our relative didn't show for one reason or another, but the funny thing is that we met her ex-husband at the airfield. Apparently, he's the one who taught her how to fly. We didn't let the no show stop us! We drove around the village where we are from and via fate, found a house with the Dutch variation of our name! We didn't knock on the door or anything, just trespassed and took pictures of their cat.

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We had no idea exact who lived there or how we were related to them, but when you drive four hours to the middle of nowhere, you don't have the option to be picky. When we got the photos back, I had them made into a postcard (with help from my coworker!) and sent the card for a very late Father's Day card. So, that's why this entry is late- my dad just got the card last week, and he gets dibs on this story.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Projections

 I thought it would be fun to post what we will miss about Europe and what we're looking forward to about moving back to the US. Then in a few months, we can see how it shakes out, what things we forgot or over/underestimated.

What will we miss?
Our coworkers/friends
Cheap Ryanair flights, and the geographic proximity to different countries/cultures/languages
Buying smaller portions- eg one chicken breast or a half loaf of bread
Being "special" - for better or for worse, being American is a huge part of our identity here and makes us stick out wherever we go
Reitz fries and Pinky waffles
The escape from American media and the constant bombardment of gloom, doom, and advertisements
Being in places with a sense of place and history (vs. chain stores, chain restaurants, chain everything)
Good beer

What are we looking forward to?
Store opening hours- nights and weekends!
Free water, free ice, free refills
Closer time zone to friends and family
Lower priced options for eating out
Going to baseball/football/basketball games

*** edited to add: Netflix and crispy bacon (Europeans eat fatty undercooked bacon)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last days in Limburg

I have difficulty with good-byes and finality and options being cut off. I think along the lines of "Oh no, I will never again be in Maastricht on a Thursday!" or "This is my last sandwich at the cafeteria I have been complaining about for the past year." or "I forgot that Batman's curious nose will no longer peer out of our front window, I should've paid better attention yesterday." Meanwhile, Nick takes a break from packing the boxes to wonder aloud if he can throw away the pair of sunglasses he never sees me wear. Here are a few of our good-bye stories:

Sinatra
A few weekends ago, we went out with Nick's boss and a coworker, painting the town black and blue. By about 1AM, we are all hammered and in the Markt (Maastricht's main town square) singing screaming out Frank Sinatra's New York, New York. (Because if you are not yet aware, we are moving to New York, New York.) A group of random Indian guys walked by as I spun around singing a solo line, and one of them picked me up and said "you're coming out with us now!" What a brilliant idea! So I just laughed at my good fortune as he carried me down the street. Nick's boss and coworker started chasing after us, and Nick just stayed where he was, because he knew I would come back eventually. :-)

Vespas
Nick and I rented some cool Italian flag vespas from La Dolce Vespa in Maastricht. (Isn't that a cool name?!) The lady was super nice, and taught us to drive in the little parking lot. We were both fairly terrified, and really sucked at making turns on the tiny Vespa wheels. You aren't obliged to wear a helmet, but we sprang an extra 20 euros to get helmets. We spent about 6 hours zooming around at about 20 mph through Limburg, to tiny towns we'd never visited. Including Gulpen a few times because we got lost. We went to Margraten, which is a large American cemetery from WW2. Dutch people adopt graves and leave flowers and messages, it was a really beautiful place. Horror of horrors, my camera ran out of batteries before I could execute all my photo ideas of us on the Vespas so we have no Vespa photos.

Paris
There are many reasons to drive 4 hours to Paris while your husband packs a few suitcases and golfs. To see my old coworker from my Paris internship 6 years ago. To eat Berthillon ice cream one last time. To take advantage of the French sales that are only held twice a year. To buy perfume at the Rue Cambon Chanel boutique. We went out with our coworkers on Friday night, stayed out until 3, and then I woke up at 5:30 to drive to Paris in time for my shopping appointment at Galeries Lafayette. Nothing like shopping to cure a hangover and a little bit of homesickness. I've spent the past 6 years homesick for Paris, and sadly it will continue when we move. I spied a mime preparing for his day on a side street near Notre Dame.

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Our last picture in the apartment- you can see Batman has a cone on his head, the poor guy needs to get his shit together and look healthy before we try to import him....

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Wall Study

Novice blogger Nick didn't post photos, so here are some interesting wall contrasts from our road trip:

1- Peace Wall in Prague

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2- Berlin Wall

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3- Bike storage wall (one of many) in Amsterdam

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Enjoy!