2016: My Year in Review

2016 was full of changes and adventures. I’m not going to write about the losses of the past year (ie Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, to name a few), nor will I talk about our president-elect, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Instead, I want to review, mainly for myself, the amazing things I was able to do because of the life I’m lucky enough to have.

So, here goes…

I started off the year living in my parents’ basement while getting my affairs in order for a great upheaval of my life, that would include putting most of my belongings in storage and heading to Minneapolis, MN for a travel contract job. I’m now self-employed and, though that causes stress at times, it allows me the freedom and flexibility to go on month-long adventures without anyone telling me I don’t have the vacation time to use. It’s lovely.

With that freedom, I spent 3 weeks traveling around the US with Kathryn Budig supporting the release of her 2nd book, Aim True.

fullsizeoutput_f6d

I took a month off and traveled to Western Australia (Perth, Yallingup, and Margaret River), Cambodia, and Vietnam with my platonic life partner of Burning Man and Iceland “fame.”

I saw kangaroos in the wild, which is like seeing deer in the US, but to me it was AWESOME!

IMG_1714

 

I saw some of the most stunning wine country in Margaret River.

IMG_1663

IMG_1703

 

I visited Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples in Siem Reap.

 

img_1915

 

I kayaked and sailed around Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.

img_2080

 

As if that isn’t enough, I was one of the extraordinarily lucky people to have seen (mostly) the original cast of Hamliton: An American Musical on Broadway. This “luck” was due to the well-connectedness and generosity of my friend Kate Fagan. Seeing Hamilton was not just a highlight of the year, but of my life, I think. Look at our seats! I mean, feel free to hate me…

 

I made my first visit to Duluth and Lake Superior with my lovely friend Becka and, all I can say is that it’s totally worth the trip. If you’re looking for a charming B&B in a great location, look no farther than Solglimt.

More Lake Superior vistas…

 

No travel list is complete without a little exertion and effort… to that end, I took a backpacking trip with fabulous friends to and around Havasu Falls (shout out to the super company Wildland Trekking). I highly recommend the trip and definitely the trekking company. If Dara Kelly happens to be your guide, you’ve won the lotto.

 

After close to 40 years, my parents left the state of Virginia, rendering me somewhat homeless officially nomadic. The upside is that I’ve been calling the frozen tundra of Minneapolis “home” and my ‘rents moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida, which, as it turns out, is so charming and lovely… and is a nice warm free escape from the Minnesota winter.

 

In addition to travel, I had the great fortune to dine at some of the best restaurants in the country. If you love food as much as I do, this was a highlight.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~Virginia Woolf

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” ~Julia Child

My list includes St Genevieve, Corner Table, and Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, Pineapple and Pearls and Rose’s Luxury in Washington, DC, and Giant and Alinea in Chicago.

If I learned anything about my dining preferences, it’s that I’ll take delicious, casual, and friendly over fancy ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. Because of that, my favorite restaurant experience was Rose’s Luxury x 2, with Giant coming in second place. Though Giant’s food was every bit as fabulous as Rose’s, they didn’t serve up happiness as well–part of Aaron Silverman’s (the chef and owner of Rose’s Luxury) goal is to make people happy and if you aren’t happy at Rose’s, you’re the problem… no matter how long you waited to get in. 

I’m also obsessed with Corner Table and St Genevieve in my newly adopted home of Minneapolis. The wine guy, Nick Rancone (and co-owner), of Corner Table seriously impresses me with his truly unique pairings, which go so well with the positively scrumptious food of chef Thomas Boemer. St Genevieve is a charming French bistro style restaurant with delicious food and a top notch champagne selection (my reason for existing).

Here are some photos from a few of these places:

Alinea

 

Rose’s Luxury

So fabulous you may just lick your plate and worth a possible 2 hour wait (made easier with bourbon in a purse). They may say “fuck perfect,” but they’re pretty fucking perfect.

 

Pineapple and Pearls

Rose’s Luxury’s  2 Michelin-starred, fancier (and not as good, in my opinion) sister.

 

Needless to say, I’ve had a great year, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the heartbreaking loss of my beloved Bailey–the cutest, sassiest, most easy-going corgi in the world. We went through life side by side for more than 15 years and he crossed the rainbow bridge on October 6, 2016. Cheers to you, sweet Bailey! I miss you terribly.

img_1831

Bring it, 2017!

The Beauty of Western Australia

So, yeah, I’ve been embarrassingly lax about posting lately. Of course, I have many excuses involving travel without a computer (it’s hard to write a blog on a phone), jet lag, work, illness, and romance.  But I’m back now and better late than never, right?

The first of my adventures on the other side of the world was in Western Australia, home to my travel soulmate who you’ll know from many posts past (see here, here, here, and here).

After 33 hours, I landed in the beautiful city of Perth, WA, was scooped up by Sava and whisked to Fremantle for brunch and bloody marys at Bib and Tucker. I was a bit dazed and have zero pictures, but it’s right on the beach, totally lovely, and has yummy breakie.

We walked around Fremantle and despite my haze, I did take a photo of a cool old hotel.

img_1495

In an effort to kick jet lag’s ass, we stayed out most of the day and walked through King’s Park in Perth next. It was such a gorgeous day to take in the views.

 

This trip was prompted by the fact that Kathryn Budig would be making her maiden voyage to Perth to teach a weekend of yoga workshops. Many of my trips have been instigated by Kathryn and her travel schedule, and I’ve acquired a few lovely friends who live in WA, so I jumped at the opportunity to go.

 

IMG_5886

sometimes she makes me demo (please note the 3 layers of shirts as they aren’t all fat rolls)

 

Once Kathryn’s work was done, we headed south to Smith’s Beach Resort for some R & R, with a side of wine tasting. The views from our rented condo were quite stunning.

 

IMG_6924

a few of my favorite things: bubbles and beautiful views

IMG_1653

P1000703

 

Now, my friends in Napa and Sonoma may revoke my card for saying this, but the Margaret River wine region may be one of the most beautiful wine countries I’ve ever seen (of California, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, and Chile). Perhaps it’s just that the landscape and flora are so different, or maybe the hundreds of kangaroos swayed me. I don’t know.

We visited Wills Domain, Clairault, and Vasse Felix and I truly cannot say which was the most beautiful.

 

IMG_1665

Fabulous wine and delicious lunch (Aussie sandwich not on the menu) at Clairault.

IMG_1710

Aussie sandwich at Clairault

 

IMG_1663

A Wills Domain vista

IMG_1703

IMG_1695IMG_1714

Though my wine heart will always belong to California, Australia has certainly found its way in as well. I guess I’ll have to plan another trip to visit my Perth friends… in the summer, they tell me.

I’ll leave you with this bit of humor…

IMG_1707

Time spent in wine country often has it’s price, but when your girl needs her B12 shot, you rise above your hangover illness, put your metaphorical nurse hat on, and help.

Stay tuned for Cambodia and Vietnam!

 

Minneapolis restaurants. Oh, the restaurants!

I came here with exactly 1 friend in the Twin Cities. That beautiful woman has managed to see me about 10 times already, despite the fact that she has a toddler, infant twins, and works full-time. At the recommendation of my amazing friend and her husband, my mom and I made reservations at Spoon and Stable. I have since found out that we were incredibly lucky to get said reservation since most people book weeks in advance. It was either meant to be or someone cancelled at the last minute–probably the latter, but the end result was the same.

I’ve lived in some foodie havens–New York City, Charleston, SC, even Washington, DC is catching up–but I am so impressed with what Minneapolis/St. Paul has to offer. Like, seriously impressed.

Everything about Spoon and Stable makes it worth the trip. Each morsel that touched my lips was delicious. The One of the most important things to me about a meal is the wine that accompanies it, and they have many great options, as well as craft cocktails.

The restaurant is truly beautiful and has top notch service. I am anxiously awaiting my opportunity to return.

IMG_1136

IMG_1147

IMG_1144

delicious endive salad

IMG_1132

my pot roast was so good I forgot to take a picture

IMG_1133

for “special” occasions there is cotton candy

 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Spoon and Stable, but I really LOVED Corner Table. I’m on a constant mission for restaurants that can be my place–ones in which I can go frequently and kind of be known. Corner Table is definitely more that than Spoon and Stable. It’s neighborhood-y, friendly, and completely fabulous. Unfortunately, I have no photos of my trip there, but I shall snap some on my next visit… and there will be many more visits. When I went, we asked one of the owners to pick our courses and pair the wine. OMG, was it fabulous! Not all of the wine pairings were what you’d traditionally receive. For instance, he paired a lamb dumpling with a really funky white wine (versus a red that you may expect with lamb) and it was glorious perfection. If I lived in their neighborhood, my waistline and wallet would be in big, big trouble.

You need reservations (unless going at some odd time and hedging your bets), so plan ahead. I have so many restaurants left to try, so bear with me. As of now, I absolutely love this place!

 

**Online dating update: The 1 guy, out of 4, that I liked, that I didn’t hear from after meeting, finally did reach out…

I’ll leave you with a pre-debauchery photo of my friend and me at the Solo Vino wine tasting event in St Paul.

aforementioned beautiful friend at the Solo Vino Rosé tasting

Minneapolis, City of Lakes

It’s been a long time since my last post and, like with most tasks, the larger-looming the more likely I am to procrastinate. So, instead of posting chronologically, I’m going out of order and jumping right into Minneapolis–my current residence. I’ve been living here for a little more than 3 weeks and although it has rained an awful lot, she’s really shown me a lovely side.

I arrived the day after Prince died, which sucks on several levels. The first being that I was just sure he and I would become friends and I would get to attend all the Paisley Park parties. So, for that reason, and that we lost yet another musical genius it was quite sad. Most people loved Prince, but the people of Minnesota, particularly the greater Twin Cities area, really loved him; he was one of them–having grown up and continued to maintain a residence here.

Naturally, I went to Paisley Park to pay my respects to the artist known once again as Prince.

Since my little rental cottage was not yet available, I spent my first night at an absolutely lovely hotel downtown called The Ivy.  Upon arrival, Bailey (my scrumptiously cute corgi) was greeted with a plush bed and bowls already in our room.

IMG_1074

If you want to win over a dog person, suck up to her dog.

We had drinks and delicious snacks in the hotel at Constantine Bar–the decor, ambiance, and abundance of real candles everywhere makes it worth checking out. The food, though really good, is definitely bar fare and not the best option if looking for something remotely healthy… like us after 2 days of the junk that a road trip provides.

Prince’s music was the only thing in the rotation for the evening and there was a small altar set for him. In the immortal words of Vivian (aka Julia Roberts), “Don’t ya just love Prince?” More than life itself, Vivian, more than life itself.

IMG_1097

IMG_1095

 

I’ve started drinking eating my way through the Twin Cities and I have several restaurant recommendations coming your way. Stay tuned.

If you’ve been considering a trip to this part of the world and are a foodie, into biking, water (lake-type) activities, enjoy being outside (this time of year, anyway) and men with beards, you should definitely come here. Even though it’s 46 degrees right now, and 75 back in my native land of Virginia, I love it.

 

**Online Dating Update**

Just so my millions handful of followers can have a good chuckle, my aforementioned plan to “online date the shit out of the Twin Cities” has been quite amusing so far. I came here as an online dating virgin and decided to jump in with both feet. I’ve had a profile in the past, but have always been able to talk myself out of going out with anyone who contacted me. I’ve had 3 dates so far… 1 was terrible and I actually think I hate him, 1 was bad and lasted WAY too long, and 1 was good. 1 out of 3 isn’t so bad except the one that was decent never contacted me again. Perhaps my comment about our next meeting being somewhere with booze led him to believe I drink too much. Oh well, it’s probably for the best. I spent no less than 3 hours with any of these guys, so I’ve learned that I truly can talk to anyone, my instincts are usually correct, and online dating is exhausting.

To close, I’d like to leave you with a picture of Bailey in his new wheels (my guy likes to be out and about, but can only walk a block or two at his advanced age).

IMG_1139

 

 

My Next Adventure…

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself getting deeper and deeper into what I call a “life rut”. Not any one thing is really the culprit and, objectively speaking, I have an amazing life, full of love and adventure, but still… something is missing.

This feeling started creeping its way into me around 2012, so I changed jobs in an effort to mix it up, challenge myself in different ways, and see if that would help. It didn’t. In the course of that change, I met some amazing people (both professionally and personally), learned some new job skills, and, most importantly, proved to myself that I could excel under pressure.

Still though, I wasn’t happy, and made another job change, hoping simplification would improve the situation. Much to my dismay, that didn’t work either, and I found myself constantly trying to escape–by traveling at every opportunity and spending WAY too much money. Don’t get me wrong, traveling at every opportunity is not a bad thing, unless the kind folks at Visa and Amex are paying for all of it.

Let me preface my woes by saying I am extraordinarily lucky for my station in life. To have family and friends who support me, a successful career, the means to travel and experience amazing things is a gift. In spite of all that, I have the audacity to want, dare I say it, M-O-R-E.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

~George Bernard Shaw

An offhand comment to a friend about my “unhappiness situation” had me set up with a lifecoach (Mike Halsey, in case you need one), something I never would have pursued on my own. Mike was unique to me–a little older than I, a former naval fighter pilot, current commercial pilot, AND lifecoach. Someone who had already experienced so much of what life can offer and I trusted to push and guide me. Several months of work with Mike, along with the unfaltering support of my best friend Kathryn Budig, a wonderful talk with the brilliant Marla Gottschalk, and I had a plan to depart my current situation.

I tossed around the idea of quitting my job without any prospects, but due to my ridiculous student loans, car payment, and overall life expenses, decided that wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had. Plan number two: take a temporary position of the 1099 variety, therefore rendering me… self-employed and holding all the control over where I go, when I’ll work, and how much. I’d love for this blog to pay my salary (I have a handful of regular readers, so I’m about as far from that as one can get). I’d love to travel, write reviews, and give my opinions to make a living. Since I haven’t figured that out quite yet, I’m staying in my current profession, but changing the rules of the game a little.

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

~Gilda Radner

So, on December 19th, 2015, I packed my possessions into a storage unit and moved in with a couple of roommates my parents to save a little nest egg and sustain the upcoming adventure. My last day at work is March 25th, after which I’ll join Kathryn on our her Aim True book tour around the US. A few weeks of that, and I’m off to Minneapolis, MN for a work assignment. I will write entries along the book tour on anything that is worth sharing–with regard to cities, hotels, restaurants, and so on.

Once in Minneapolis, I’m going to shake things up and try to break my rhythm. I’m an incredibly routine-bound person, which is part of what currently ails me. I go to work, hang out with the same people, spend a fair amount of time alone (which I love), and stick in my oh-so-comfortable rut.

NO MORE!

I am doing this to force myself out of this comfort zone and open up to new people and experiences. A common misconception is that I am doing this to meet a mate–should that occur, great, but it is not my motivation. That being said, I’m going to embrace the 21st century (several years late) and online date the shit out of the Twin Cities. I’m going to say “yes” (within reason) to everything that comes my way because, why the hell not?

So, that’s where I am, where I’m going, and what I’m thinking.

In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re on your own and you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

Here goes…

**Keep up with me here. I have big plans for my freedom to come. Along with book tour updates, keep an eye out for the Minneapolis scene and a future trip to Australia/Vietnam/Cambodia. I’m always up for sharing my adventures… maybe even a good/bad dating story or two.

 

 

 

Machu Picchu on a Budget

I took this trip several years ago, but think the information is useful enough to go ahead with a delayed post of it. I shared the details with a friend, who used the same hotel and trek company, more recently, and loved it. Whether or not you plan to hike some version of the Inca Trail, visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu are so worth it. I did this for quite a reasonable price considering the level of service received… naturally, I want to share the info.

You’ll most likely fly into Lima, then connect to Cusco.

Tip: schedule the flight to Cusco early in the morning, when the chance of cancellation for wind conditions is less likely.

Less wind over the Andes = less scary

Cusco is a beautiful little city, set at a gentle 11,000+ feet (3,400 m) of elevation. If you don’t live at that altitude, you WILL feel this. You might even wonder, “how the hell will I walk for 4 days like this?” It is possible to have that thought and still complete the Inca Trail hike. Diamox also helps with the elevation (see here for some drug info).

DSCF0170

Beautiful Cusco

I stayed at a quaint hotel, called Encantada, on the outskirts of downtown Cusco. It was quiet, comfortable, and cozy, with warm and helpful staff. The location keeps you off the noisy streets of the city and also allows some time to practice walking up hills at a higher than normal elevation.

Breakfast is offered every morning and coca tea is always available in the lobby, which is more like an idyllic living room (with fireplace) than a hotel lobby.

There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and day hikes to keep you occupied and happy in Cusco for days. My main goal was to hike the Inca Trail, so I only planned for the “required” 2 days of acclimation before setting off. I wish I’d had more time to explore.

The hike

If you are relatively active and fit, you can do this hike… and should. I’m referring to the 3 night/4 day Inca Trail trek. There are tons of guide companies, of varying cost and amenities, from which to choose. After hours of reading reviews, I went with Llama Path–a porter and eco-friendly company that seemed to have smaller groups, happy customers, and were reasonably priced.

Our group of 8 also had 1 guide, a chef, and whole staff of porters tasked with carrying (and setting up/breaking down) camp. We saw other groups out there with at least 20 people in them. 8 was nice.

DSCF0188

Our small group + our “red army”

At times, I felt as though I couldn’t take another step, even with the mound of coca leaves in my cheek, but we all made our way up countless steps, over an almost 14,000 foot pass (Dead Woman’s Pass–named because the mountain looks like a woman in repose, not because they’re terribly sexist), down through the jungle, only to go up again, and finally to Machu Picchu.

DSCF0205

Day 2 is definitely the most trying with 2 high altitude passes

Somehow, the food they serve is actually really good. Perhaps it’s the combination of altitude and exhaustion, but I swear it was delicious, relatively speaking.  Each morning you’re awoken by one of the staff members bringing coca leaf tea to your tent in an effort to help with the altitude. It may or may not work.

The views are stunning and the hike is a wonderful experience which ends (obviously) at the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu. Once you’ve walked 4 days to get there, you do feel ever so slightly more entitled to it than the folks who took the train in, but there’s nothing to be done about them. When we arrived, however, the Machu Picchu from all the famous photos was not who greeted us…

DSCF0249

A cloud-masked Machu Picchu

There is another peak to climb, called Huayna Picchu, that requires a separate ticket and does sell out. I missed the opportunity when I went, but heard the views are spectacular. If you want to walk up another hill, buy that ticket as soon as you can upon arrival.

I highly recommend doing this hike if you’re physically able. Walking through such a beautiful part of the world, en route to the magical place of Machu Picchu is quite rewarding… and worth it. You’ll pass many Inca sites along the trail as well. After touring MP, a bus takes the group to Aguas Calientes, where you can explore, eat, and wait for your scheduled train back to the bus, which takes you to Cusco. The last day is a long one, worth it, but long.

Without further adieu, more pictures:

 

DSCF0179

Day 1

DSCF0180

DSCF0198

Dead Woman’s Pass did not harm this woman!

DSCF0229

Day 3 Inca ruins

DSCF0280

DSCF0284

The alpacas are adorable and everywhere

DSCF0312

Who doesn’t do yoga at MP?

DSCF0319

IMG_0087

A far less dangerous perch than it appears

DSCF0300

The End!

Washington, DC: the quick and dirty tourist’s guide

You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” ~Italo Calvino

Washington, DC is a beautiful, iconic city. A friend once said, after making her first visit to DC, that it looks exactly as our nation’s capital should look. I have to agree. Having lived in or near it for most of my life, I love to show it off to tourists. I am a self-proclaimed expert at the quick and dirty tour for out-of-towners.

If you have a few days, the museums are great and many of them are FREE. That being said, my quick tour doesn’t include them, but click here for info on the Smithsonian (i.e. free) ones.

Without further ado, here is the best way to take in the history and grandeur of Washington, DC quickly. I first did this with a friend who had just a few hours to see the sights. After the tour, he left saying it was the best part of his trip to the US.

W Hotel Rooftop bar views:

If you get lucky, you’ll see Marine One come in for a landing on the White House lawn.

IMG_1942

You can eat there for brunch or just have cocktails prior to going elsewhere. The view is fantastic, but you definitely pay a premium for it. It’s kind of a club scene after dark, which I don’t appreciate, so I prefer brunch/lunch/pre-dinner drinks.

*special note: if the snipers are on the roof of the White House, someone important is home, or will be soon*

 

The White House:

Just a short walk from the W Hotel

IMG_0046

My mom, sister, and a visiting Australian in between

 

Monuments and the Mall:

If you find yourself there during the day, park near the mall and take a walk. Even quicker, though, hop in a cab/uber after dinner and ask them to drive you past the Jefferson, stop (and leave the meter running) at the Lincoln–definitely run up the steps for photos, then turn and observe the Washington Monument towering over the Reflecting Pool. Round out the tour by driving past the Capital dome, my favorite building, and a stunner whether set against the dark night or a blue, cloudless sky. Right now there is scaffolding on it for repairs, but hopefully it will be back in all its glory soon.

IMG_3549

Vietnam Memorial

IMG_3568

World War 2 Memorial

 

Turn 180 degrees, and here’s what you’ll see (click here for the movie version):

IMG_0049

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool

 

A side trip, which is WELL worth it is to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s somber, powerful, and wonderful.

 

Restaurant options:

Founding Farmers  – good for brunch, lunch, or dinner with yummy drinks and very reasonable corkage fees should you decide to bring your own wine to save some $$. The food is delicious also, but can you tell where my priorities lie? Yes, with the booze.

Old Ebbit Grill – historic (the oldest saloon in the city), iconic, and walking distance to the W, the monuments, and the White House. It’s a little dark on the inside, but so convenient.

Blue Duck Tavern – only nearish to all the monuments, but so so delicious.

There are, of course, tons of other scrumptious options for food, but I had to stay on task.

 

I Heart New York in a New Way Every Time

My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they’re misunderstood. I don’t think people realize how kind New York people are.”    ~Bill Murray

I lived in Manhattan for a year after college and have been traveling there my entire life (dad being a native and all). Still though, the experience is different each and every time I visit. Sure, it’s crowded and dirty and loud, but the city has such grit–in a good way–and energy and truth. Don’t get me wrong, without a second home or millions of dollars, I wouldn’t want to live there permanently, yet a little part of my heart will always belong to New York City.

Sometimes I like to play tourist, other times local. On my most recent visit, over Halloween weekend, it was probably more touristy, and one of my favorites.

I flew up after work on a Thursday afternoon and had just enough time to drop my bag at my aunt’s apartment before walking–my favorite head down, brisk walk that’s only acceptable in NYC–to a delicious Upper West Side restaurant called Bustan. Despite its small size, they were quite accommodating of our large (8 person) group. The food though… THE FOOD WAS DELICIOUS! I don’t think you can go wrong, but be sure to get the spicy feta dip. Ah-mazing! Out of all those people, everyone was happy, if not thrilled, with the food and drinks. Yum!

An undisclosed amount of alcohol may have contributed to a late start on Friday. We did, however, manage to cram a lot into the remainder of the day… starting with Artie’s Delicatessen–a quintessential NYC deli/diner with deliciously fresh omelettes. Then the bikes…

If you don’t happen to travel with a bike, you can rent one from Citi Bikes, which are EVERYWHERE. There’s even an app to track pick-up and return sites–important since some are usually empty, while others are too full to accept a return.

I used to live on the Upper West Side, so that’s where I prefer to stay when visiting. Such a beautiful part of the city, sandwiched between Riverside and Central Parks, for speed walking strolling and bike riding. We set off down Riverside Park on a gorgeous day, stopping occasionally at the piers along the way to the World Trade Center site.

IMG_8882

Riverside Park

 

IMG_8884

The Freedom Tower

IMG_8886

Pier pit stop

 

This was my first visit since the completion of the memorial/museum/Freedom Tower. Time constraints would only allow us to wait in one long line and recalling a memorable visit to the Empire State Building observation deck, we opted to go to the top of the One World Trade Center. You can, and should, buy tickets online before going. That being said, time sometimes gets away from you in New York, so should you find yourself down there without a ticket, buy them online (with your smart phone) instead of waiting in the physical line to purchase tickets.

I won’t blow the little surprise you get at the top–which is great–and the view is amazing, but it’s a little more theme parkey up there than I would like. Also, the observation deck is windowed, unlike the Empire State Building, making pictures full of glare. So, though it has a great view and is a large, wonderful, symbolic F-you to terrorists, it doesn’t have the romance of the ESB. Perhaps the tallest building in the Western hemisphere doesn’t need to be romantic, but I don’t think Disneyland-ish is the right atmosphere either. All that being said, go ahead and go up, just to say you did.

IMG_8893

9/11 Memorial Plaza

IMG_8901

The 9/11 Museum

IMG_8899

One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower

IMG_8911

Obligatory selfie from the top

 

Rather than supply a narrative about how I got from one place to eat and drink to another, I’ll just give you a descriptive list for the blur that was the next day and a half.

There is something in the the New York air that makes sleep useless.”   ~Simone de Beauvior

UWS Indian Food

I couldn’t decide whether to include this meal in my list of things to do. It’s not necessarily something I’d recommend, or do again when in NYC, BUT it’s cheap! And decent. Located on the Upper West Side, Alachi Masala is a byob restaurant, making for a rare, cheap, full meal in the city. I left completely full and paid $24! Of course, that doesn’t include the wine I brought with me… but still. Definitely not the best Indian food I’ve ever had, but it is good (except for the salad), and the price is great.

The Highline

If you haven’t walked the Highline, you must! DO NOT, however, do it after brunch on a weekend. I had a photo shoot there years ago, at 7 am (see here and here)–a time when weekend NY is surreal and empty. Sadly, the relationship didn’t last, but aren’t those photos fabulous? Anyway, I digress… go to the Highline at an off-hour. It’s such a unique, beautiful place. If you’re lucky, you’ll see something scandalous while glancing up at the Standard Hotel windows.

IMG_8973

Strolling the packed Highline with my bestie Kathryn Budig

IMG_8935

On the Highline with KB and the fab Kate Fagan

Queen of the Night

When I was told we were going to Queen of the Night on Halloween, I can’t say I was excited. Though I heard it was unique and great and crazy, I just couldn’t imagine that it actually was worth $200. Fast forward to getting to wear my blue bob wig with a fascinator/birdcage veil headpiece, and I was pretty excited. So, long story short, there are surprises, weird things, hot things, amazing things, and the dinner is actually really delicious. If you’re looking for something different, but still show-ish, go see Queen of the Night. Wear something fabulous and fancy.

IMG_8953

IMG_8950

With my mom and aunt, enjoying blue lighting and complimentary cocktails

 

Cafe Wha

Sadly, I had never heard of Cafe Wha prior to going there… and my mom and aunt are the ones who introduced me to it! Please look beyond the fact that it’s in a basement, packed with people, and has stiflingly low ceilings. If you go at a busy time, you’ll wait in line until space opens up, then be escorted through a packed room to your table. Some how, some way, the wait staff is able to navigate through all of this and actually take orders, but more importantly, bring drinks without spilling them. I’ve recently become obsessed with pickelbacks and had a few of those. The truffle fries aren’t to be missed either. You could take away all of that though, and people would still go for the house band. NEVER, ever in my life have I seen such a fabulous cover band. Ever. They play current music, classics, Latin, 90s, 80s, whatever, and they do it amazingly well! I love live music and have seen more than my fair share, but this was really special. Located in the Village, it’s so worth going. Thank you, Comedy Cellar, for being sold out.

The best picture of the weekend:

IMG_8967

The subway. Halloween. 2 am. HILARIOUS!

As for New York City, it is a place apart. There is not its match in any other country in the world.”                                                                                              ~Pearl S. Buck

See you soon, New York. I totally heart you.

The End

Iceland Part 2… the details

This trip was planned on a whim, just 2.5 weeks in advance. I booked my flight on Wow Air, as it was the only cheap-ish flight at the time. They are a budget airline that offers no frills and cheap fares, but charges extra for everything– from water to a carry-on over 5 kg (11 lbs). I did the backwards thing and booked my non-refundable ticket prior to reading reviews of the airline I’d never heard of. Many reviews were terrible, but I had no problems. On top of a fare deal, they seem to have a nice sense of humor–a much appreciated feature. Oh, the planes are a stylish fuchsia.

(click photos to enlarge)

Due to the snow potential and time constraints, we stuck with the southern part of Iceland for our exploration. After landing at 5:30 am, we got our rental car, and headed to the blue lagoon, with a breakfast stop along the way. The lagoon is only about 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, so it’s convenient to go on your way in or out of the country. I highly recommend getting your tickets online in advance here. Yes, the lagoon is a tourist trap and, yes, it is worth visiting. Arriving when they open will cut down on the amount of people there ever so slightly. Be sure to put the lagoon mud (located in pots around the edge) on your face–meant to soften skin and contain anti-aging properties. Don’t get your hair wet! The high silica levels in the water render hair completely unmanageable.

Vik and beyond

I chose Vik as our first spot. It’s a very small town on the southern coast, about 3 hours from the airport and 2.5 hours from our farthest destination of Jökulsárlón.

Airbnb has several listings in Vik, but none of the available ones were quite what I wanted, so opted for the Icelandair Hotel. It was quaint, reasonably priced, and clean. As someone who lives for her next meal, the restaurant being good was an added bonus. After only 2 hours of sleep on the plane and driving most of the day, staying in for dinner was a welcomed option.

Vik has black sand beaches, birds, ponies, and picturesque views such as this:

Church on a hill in Vik

Church on a hill in Vik

It is not uncommon to see the picnic site sign while driving around Iceland. Such a sweet country.

IMG_8555

The first night in Vik, we could barely muster the energy to go to the restaurant in the lobby (which was fantastic, by the way) and almost had Jameson on the rocks for dinner. Our second night, however, we did some research and set out for Haldórskaffi, a small, warm restaurant in town. I can’t say it’s a locals place, but it’s hard to tell if any Icelandic haunt is really for locals or not. The population in the entire country is just over 300,000, so a large group of tourists can easily take over an establishment on a given night. Haldórskaffi was packed, so we sidled up to the bar for our wait…go figure. The food is pretty good, but not great. For some reason I didn’t get the burger, but had read that it’s fabulous. 

While eating, we missed a brief Northern Lights appearance, but set out in search of them. Plenty of Jameson, and hours later, we gave up and went to bed. The quest for Aurora led to a hungover late start on the third day. The drive from Vik to Reykjavik is easy and, of course, stunning. Even if retracing your steps in Iceland, the scenery looks different in the other direction. 

On to Reykjavik

Perusing AirBnB listings in Iceland will teach you 2 important things: 1) Icelanders love to use the word “cozy” when describing apartments–something they must think tourists are seeking when visiting a place with “ice” in the name. 2) All listings will tell you the proximity to a pool. The natives LOVE their heated pools and even frequent them after work to socialize.

There are SO MANY great AirBnB options in Reykjavik, so I picked one that was centrally located and adorable, with a really comfortable bed to boot. Most of the island has geothermically-heated water… which means it smells like sulfur (or rotten eggs). Get used to it and embrace the natural resource.

Hverfisgata37-forstofa Hverfisgata37-stofa3

Hverfisgata37-stofa4-1 Hverfisgata37-Eldhus1

Hverfisgata37-herbergi-clone

The owners have a few other rental apartments, as well as a hotel, which I did not see, called OK Hotel. A perk of staying at any of Kathy’s properties is the 15% discount at her really yummy K-Bar–a Korean restaurant infused with a little Icelandic flair. DEFINITELY try the cauliflower and the dumplings (both pork and tofu were delicious).

The warm decor at K-bar

The warm decor at K-bar

Whether you’re in Reykjavik for just a day, or longer, you have time to explore the Golden Circle–see my other Iceland post for pictures–and knock out a few top tourist attractions. It’s easy to do this on your own, but there are plenty of tours to take as well. If on your own, be sure to stop in Laugarvatn and eat at Lindin. IT IS DELICIOUS! And, sadly (kind of), so is the reindeer burger… like, really good. I ate Rudolph.

In addition to all of that, here’s the view:

IMG_8791

So, my 4 full days in Iceland definitely weren’t enough and I WILL be returning. The country is not only stunning, but easy to navigate on your own. At least a week is needed to drive the Ring Road, which is as it sounds and circles the whole country. I’m not sure how passable the road would be during the winter, so it will be a summer trip for me.

Tips:

  • Food and alcohol are expensive–pick up some booze at duty free, preferably in the US, where it’s cheaper, though it’s possible to stock up when you arrive at Keflavik airport. The second duty free you encounter is for incoming passengers.
  • Note that it almost never gets dark during the summer and there is very limited daylight in the dead of winter.
  • The Aurora Borealis is more elusive than you might expect. The lights start showing up in October, but are the strongest on cold, clear nights, and best seen away from the light pollution of cities. If you happen to see anything like the famous photos, consider yourself lucky. They don’t always show up as colors and those photos are often the work of a DSLR camera on a slow shutter speed.
  • Airwaves is a music festival that occurs at the beginning of November every year. Next year, I think I’ll go. My cousin and his wife DID go last year and loved it. If you’d like to know more about Reykjavik’s coffee and music scene, go here.
  • Learning to pronounce the name of that volcano that shut down Europe for a bit–Eyafjallajökull–is a fun activity.

**I get nothing for recommending these places, but would be happily accept freebies**

If the Question is Iceland, Your Answer Should be Yes!

My childhood was full of magic. I grew up in an environment where gnomes, fairies, and elves were very real–a beautiful thing for the imagination. Fast forward 30 years, and Iceland is a dream country. Its craggy, moss-covered landscape lends itself to a mystical world. Icelandic culture is rich with mythological creatures, such as huldufólk (hidden people), that many believe exist. If that isn’t endearing, I don’t know what is.

Iceland’s popularity has increased in recent years, partly due to the fact that Wow and Iceland Air offer relatively cheap flights to Europe. Frequently, it does not increase the fare to layover in Iceland for a few days. Even with a stopover of a few hours, it’s possible to visit the Blue Lagoon, one of the 25 wonders of the world and quite a refreshing experience after a flight.

I had 4 full days to explore and needed to pick a region on which to focus. Our tiny rental clown car wouldn’t have stood a chance in the event of snowfall, so we settled on the southern part of the island. 2 nights in Vik and 2 nights in Reykjavik would allow us to venture out from there.

Now, on to the pictures! My next post will contain all the planning details, accommodation info, and restaurants, but this one is to introduce my thousands 5 readers to the beauty and wonder that is Iceland.

click images to enlarge

the blue lagoon

the blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

After a luxurious soak and indulging in our complimentary drinks, we loaded into the car and set out for the seaside town of Vik, about 3 hours from the airport. Driving pretty much anywhere in Iceland is beautiful. Despite extreme exhaustion from the flight and no sleep, everything looked like a postcard.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

Waterfalls galore

Waterfalls galore

On day 2 we went east from Vik in pursuit of Jökulsárlón, a stunning glacial lagoon that served as a site for James Bond’s Die Another Day. For the movie, they blocked the flow of seawater into the lagoon, which allows it to freeze and enable these shots.

Jökulsárlón-- glacial lagoon

Jökulsárlón– glacial lagoon

IMG_8500

The boat ride on the lagoon is worth the, approximately, $36 for the vantage point and photo ops.

IMG_8491

The glacier! It's hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

The glacier! It’s hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with the Icelandic weather, fret not! Just wait 5 minutes and it will change.

Fickle Icelandic weather

Fickle Icelandic weather

Another site on the road back to Vik

Another site on the road back to Vik

Driving around Iceland is never boring… nor ugly. On the drive to Reykjavik we encountered more stunning sights. Whether or not we saw the Aurora Borealis is debatable, but screw those northern lights! Check out the rainbows! All three of these photos are from the same day.

IMG_8608 IMG_8605

There *may* be more sheep than people in Iceland. I called them. They turned. Just call me the sheep whisperer.

Reykjavik is a quaint town city–the northernmost capital in the world–and we finally reached it on day 3.

IMG_8615

Iceland’s pride week is a huge event and, this year, they painted the street. The mayor said, “This is one way to make our city livelier, more human and simply a better place by great collaboration and beautiful thinking.” Seriously, Iceland is a magnificent place!

IMG_8620

TROLLS! In Reykjavik

TROLLS! In Reykjavik

We didn’t make it to this museum, but there’s a documentary about it called The Final Member.

IMG_8619

From a stay in the capital, or even a day long layover, it’s easy to tour what’s known as the Golden Circle. First stop is the site of the Viking parliament, or Þingvellir.

a view from Þingvellir

a view from Þingvellir

After Þingvellir, it’s off to Geysir– the now relatively dormant geyser after which all others are named. Strokkur is there as well and erupts every few minutes.

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

IMG_8638

IMG_8664 IMG_8666

IMG_8668 IMG_8672

IMG_8790

The Icelandic horses! Perhaps the highlight of my Golden Circle drive. From sheep whisperer to horse whisperer.

From Geysir, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is about 10 minutes up the road, named as such because the water appears gold when the sun hits.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Have I convinced you to go to Iceland yet? If so, stay tuned for my next post with all my trip-planning details.

*all images are the property of Caroline Shea, unless otherwise noted. reproduction without permission is prohibited*