[3/21/13 – 3/26/13] I had gotten engaged and the big day of nuptials was fast approaching when my mom decided we needed “one last girls’ trip” before I was officially wed; so she generously offered to sponsor a four night getaway with my sister to explore a slice of paradise where none of us had previously been… Punta Cana.
The Dominican Republic would add a new item to my list of visited countries which was exciting enough… but 5 days of fun in the sun with some of my very favorite people? …Unbeatable. And that’s exactly what it was. From the minute we got on the plane, the fun began with generously poured mimosas to boot, and views of jungle mountain terrain below. Six hours of flying and one layover later we had arrived in a seaside paradise on the easternmost coast of the DR, a chunk of island [east of Haiti] almost 2,000 miles southeast of snowy Chicago. We checked in to our all-inclusive (yes, it was that kind of low-maintenance, turn off your brain trip) hotel in the luxurious lobby and explored the perfectly tamed grounds. Narrow paths framed with lush foliage, vibrant island flowers, and palm trees standing tall led us to the large pool area teaming with American, European and South American tourists alike. Just a few paces out from the pool and our toes met the pure white sand, (some of the very best I have seen), and aqua blue ocean crashing in waves to meet the land. This was exactly what we came for.
Even though it was late in the day, the sun was still teasing us through the clouds so we immediately hit the pool and got our first celebratory daiquiris. The swim up bar was soon calling our names and our friendly bartenders kept them coming which led to our tipsy demise. We changed up for the night in a stupor and headed downstairs to our conveniently located all-you-can-eat dinner buffet offering a plethora of ethnic choices. The food and alcohol at all-inclusive resorts is not exactly 5 star, as to be expected with the all in one price tag… but it was enough to keep us fat and happy. We taste-tested the options and decided to wind down from the long day with some intense games of travel Scrabble… a favorite on this trip. We played into the night enjoying the warm night air and intoxicating smell of the neighboring sea.
We rose surprisingly early the following morning and took a quiet walk down the long stretch of refreshingly empty beach before the hungover tourists claimed their chairs. We beat the system by grabbing two sets of towels and saving both poolside and beach chair options for our lazy day ahead… the perks of choosing Scrabble over partying the night previous.
After a hearty breakfast we laid out by the beach and welcomed the Vitamin D. Several hours of sunlight, ocean swimming and one photoshoot later, we dried off for an espresso break in the café lounge bar and competed in another concentrated game of Scrabble. A highlight came next as we traversed the seemingly never-ending beaches and explored several of the neighboring resorts, concluding that they are pretty much all amazing… Punta Cana is quite the place! As the sun set on our walk back to our resort [the Riu Palace], we showered up for a lovely Italian dinner at one of the resort’s specialty restaurants, complete with wine in the plaza and another Scrabble extravaganza. Live music at the resort stage concluded the evening.
The following day was by far my favorite. We awoke early and prepared daypacks for our anticipated island adventure. Outside our resort we were greeted by a comfortable bus which transported us across the island (an unexpected 2 hour ride). I looked out my window in a sleepy state to find that the real DR was unlike our Disneyland paradise on the coast. Marble floors and cobblestone sidewalks were replaced by dirt roads. Limousines and luxury tour buses were replaced by mopeds carrying three passengers at a time. Decrepit storefronts selling everyday items were lazily lining the streets teaming with locals living their less than glamorous lives. Just by observing the main roads and zooming past the dilapidated shacks and homes, the poverty in this country was evident. Still, every single person we came across during our time on the island was genuinely kind and carefree. Those of the Dominican Republic seem to be a proud, laid-back people.
Now back to our adventure: For just $100 per person, we would spend the entire day island hopping in the surrounding waters on the opposite side of the Dominican Republic off the southern coast. The equally beautiful water and white sand beach came as no shock as we found the coast and boarded a speedboat vessel to take us a short ride to our main schooner for the day with about 20 other tourists. Our 60 foot catamaran was an idyllic way to transport us over pristine waters to the unchartered islands calling our names.
Sails up! Perched on the trampolines of the catamaran, we began our 90 minute journey over the splashing waves where we danced to island music beaming through the speakers and sipped bottomless homemade cocktails… this was the life. Our first stop was the main reason we had ventured so far from our sandy beaches on the other side… the promised Saona Island. We had heard tales of this private island utopia from revelers at our resort and had to see it for ourselves. Upon approaching the palm-lined island with not a soul in sight, we were immediately captivated by the clear blue water and long empty beach in the distance. It was just our small crew who ventured via dinghy to this serene paradise that day, offering paramount privacy. The hours whisked by as we blissfully enjoyed our remote surroundings. We bathed joylessly in the water as the palm trees danced in the sea air, sipped cocktails from our crew, and took a myriad of photos.
We could have stayed forever, but soon had to say goodbye to Isla Saona with the promise of further adventure. We jumped on small speedboats and were driven a mile or so into the open ocean where we suddenly stopped and were instructed to jump out. We found ourselves on a natural sandbar in the middle of the ocean, where you could stand submerged waste high amongst the calm waters… insane! As if that wasn’t enough, our guides ducked into the water and came out with natural orange starfish the size of our heads, lifting them gently from the sea floor. They were all around us! One by one, we began the starfish hunt. Finding your pick of starfish was no challenging task and soon we all were passing the beautiful creatures (safely underwater, lifting them out for only for 10 seconds maximum) for photos. Wow!
Our last stop of the day was a slightly larger island equipped with huts for cooking and a bamboo bar. The drinking continued as we chatted on beach chairs nestled into the sand and our lunch was prepared. Soon enough it was time to indulge in a generous fish and barbeque chicken cookout all grilled to perfection. Yum! We were impressed to say the least. Our catamaran ride all the way back to shore was bittersweet as we knew this highlight of the trip was coming to an end. Anyone going to Punta Cana should definitely book one of these tours to Saona and neighboring islands. Back at our resort, we dressed up for another satisfying dinner and relaxing night of Scrabble before our exhaustion hit us and we called it a night. What a day…
The next day’s agenda was simple: nothing. Our threesome enjoyed a long breakfast sipping coffees in our resort plaza before leisurely hitting the beach for a few hours of cocktails and sun. My mom and Ashley went shopping while I lay in an underwater pool bench getting lost in my book. Before I knew it I was burnt to a crisp, so we took a buffet lunch break at one of the resort’s outdoor restaurants along the beach. The sun intensified as we got silly at the swim-up bar and “stayed hydrated” imbibing on fruity cocktails. Sufficiently waterlogged, we got a table in the plaza and played Scrabble with cosmopolitan martinis as the sun dropped. We fancied up and enjoyed a dinner at the specialty French restaurant of the resort.
We had yet to explore the nightlife in Punta Cana and it was our final night, so we cabbed it over to the Hard Rock Hotel where we had heard of a good casino/bar. Unfortunately, our Spanish speaking driver arrived at the hotel gates only to be turned down… the club was closed that night. Laughing out loud, my sister and I tried to drunkenly remember our high school Spanish as we negotiated a new plan. We backtracked the way we came in order to go to our second option… a nightclub/disco built into a cave. We arrived at the cave club called “Imagine” at about 10:00pm and were laughed at by the bouncers that they did not open for another half hour. Embarrassed but out of luck, we waited patiently in the parking lot, dressed to the nines and looking like complete idiots until they stamped our hands and allowed us to enter the massive cave. The place was actually very cool and worth the wait… tunnels of rock formations illuminated by colorful club lights led to the large dance floor in the middle of the rock cave. Nooks of VIP seating surrounded the place, and the dance floor lit up in an array of strobe lights. We got our first drinks and sat in the empty VIP booths laughing until almost out of nowhere, the place was packed. Suffice to say the night turned around and we danced like crazy until 4am.
Waking in a haze to our very last morning of perfect weather, we shared a bittersweet breakfast and relaxed on beach chairs for a final few hours wishing time would stop. I shopped for some souvenirs and scored a deal on some local cigars before showering up in order to catch our flight. Nine hours later we found ourselves back in Chicago to the sobering cold temperature. While I like to explore new places because our world is so big, once in a while there are undeniably return-worthy spots. For a lazy vacation and the only prerequisite being gorgeous beaches and affordable luxury, Punta Cana is a wonderful option to which I would definitively return.
I had admittedly wanted some body ink since I was in my teens, but knew better than to pull the trigger before I found something I was passionate enough about to display on my skin for the rest of my life. The time had finally come and I knew in my bones that I would not regret this small homage to my love of our globe and world travel. So I put thoughts into action and sketched out a design of a colorful rendition of our planet which would proudly (albeit subtly) display my inner wanderlust. It wasn't until a few weeks later [in the fall of 2013] when my friends and I spontaneously decided to find a parlor in the city and get our tattoos (it maaay have been after midnight)... the experience was full of anxiousness and joy, friendship, and late night hilarity... my result was exactly as I had hoped.
I can happily say that I am still in love with this tattoo over 3 years later... (I'd sure hope so!) In fact, I usually wish it was more visible every day than it actually is. Nonetheless, it just goes to show that you should definitely wait until you have a deep love for something before you ink it permanently on your body. My globe not only reminds me of my past travels and amazing experiences, but it tells me to hold onto my passions and continue to explore the world. Life's too short!
[Dec 2012 - Jan 2013] It was time to turn cold weather into winter fun in December 2012 as three couples braved the snow and headed to bustling Steamboat, Colorado where we would ring in the new year donning ski boots and scarves. We met up in Denver and drove our rental minivan through the gorgeous mountains toward Steamboat where our friend Meghan and her family have a condo nestled in the snow. This condo did the trick… offering a mere walk down a picturesque hill to the main chair lifts which bring some of the best skiing in the U.S. Our sunset drive offered great views and we were happy to find home, check out the digs, and play some couples Scattergories with a couple beers before getting some rest for the big day ahead.
The next day was spent getting our gear and heading up the massive slopes. Our group of six [Meghan, Jack, Molly, Joe, Tom and myself] spent this crisp, sunny day taking in the views as we skied blissfully down the hundreds of runs on this freshly-powdered paradise. Sweating through our jackets after hours of joy, we found respite at the local pub at the bottom of the mountain, sipping much-deserved pitchers of cold Colorado brew. Back at the condo, we defrosted in sweats and enjoyed a homemade pasta meal before dipping our chilled bodies in the outdoor hot tub and drinking the night away.
Day two of skiing wasn’t unlike the first, except our sunny air was replaced with mountain fog and falling flurries. We carried on nonetheless and enjoyed the backside of this glorious mountain, finding our niche in hidden runs and beautiful tree-lined paths.
Later that night we fancied up for the big night out on the town… it was New Year’s Eve! We rode the convenient bus downtown and ate seafood and burgers at a local spot before heading to the bar scene sporting festive hats and crowns. Arriving early, we scored a long table right off the dance floor and proceeded to order the infamous beer towers standing several feet high. Now this was our kind of place! Tower after tower disappeared into our thirsty bellies and our dance moves progressed accordingly. Before we knew it the countdown was on… We kissed our chapped lips and welcomed 2013 in an excited state of delight. Soon, confetti and streamers covered the place as we caused quite the raucous and moved on to the next bar. In the wee hours of the morning, we rode the bus packed with fellow NYE revelers back to our sleepy home.
Day three was planned around our inevitable hangovers… so flying down an unforgiving mountain at lofty speeds with two skinny planks attached to our feet was thankfully not part of the plan. Instead, the plan was relaxation at a beautiful oasis in the mountains. That oasis is the unforgettable Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a plethora of natural hot springs tucked deep into the forested mountain. A long winding drive up the narrow pathway was met with entry to this hangover cure as we traded coats for bikinis and tested the various temperatures in the many pools. Surrounded by the unmatched beauty of tall evergreens blanketed in glistening white snow, we relaxed in the perfectly soothing water in a state of serenity. I could have stayed for hours, but as our skin became pruned we changed back and headed home to a lovely sunset walk around the village and endless games of catchphrase before heading out to a Mexican feast at the base of the mountain.
Our final full day was another of perfect sunny weather high in the mountains. This day was probably our best skiing yet… we found amazing untouched trails and challenged the fresh powdery slopes of every size. We couldn’t get enough! We reenergized with a beer and hot cocoa break in the gorgeous mountaintop cabin lodge and enjoyed our last few hours of skiing before returning our gear and heading to the nightly ritual of the hot tub. Our last night we enjoyed one last dinner downtown and did a little barhopping to celebrate such a successful trip.
It has admittedly been a LONG time since I have blogged on Life's Too Short... but it doesn't mean the travels have stopped! Now that 2016 has hit, a resolution of mine is to catch up on the blog completely... and there are three years worth of adventures to cover! The time flew by (hence, "life's too short")... so here is a preview of the upcoming posts to expect in 2016:
Steamboat, Colorado ~ Three couples take on the slopes of Steamboat, CO -- home to gorgeous terrain, fresh white powder, jaw dropping heights, and gorgeous natural hot springs.
Punta Cana, Domincan Republic ~ My mom, sister and I check out the white sand beaches and pristine blue waters of Punta Cana. Beachside drinks and cave-clubbing discos meet day-sail adventures and starfish hunting in this tropical paradise.
Florence, Italy ~ Tom and I get MARRIED -- and celebrate the nuptials with a three and a half week honeymoon through Italy and Greece! First stop, the amazing Florence where we spend a few days climbing bell towers, sipping wine on bridges, and seeing the amazing David by Michelangelo.
Pisa, Italy ~ We train it over to Pisa for the day... the land of the infamous Leaning Tower.
Tuscany, Italy ~ We rent a car and travel through the rolling hills of Tuscany, exploring the beautiful hilltop towns of San Gimignano, Volterra, and Siena.
Sorrento, Italy ~ We direct our manual wheels down the treacherous yet beautiful Amalfi Coast Drive, stopping in seaside Sorrento for two nights where we swim the public beaches, shop for art and limoncello, and enjoy happy hour on our hostel rooftop.
Capri, Italy ~ We ferry to the land of glitz and glamour on Capri Island off the Italian coastline, where we sail the rock formations, explore the blue caves, relax beach side, take in the unbeatable views from our balcony, dine on fresh seafood pasta.
Positano, Italy ~ Further up the coast, we find remote Positano... hillside town hosting gorgeous views, a black volcanic sand beach, and our cozy bed and breakfast nook in the mountain.
Rome, Italy ~ What is a road trip through Italy without a stop in Rome? We venture to the metropolis to experience the centuries-old sights and the mouth watering gelato... stopping in Vatican City along the way.
Athens, Greece ~ We enter GREECE and discover our love of authentic Gyros, souvlaki skewers, and tzatziki.
Naxos, Greece ~ We begin our sailing of the Greek Cyclades Islands in the long stretches of sand found in sleepy Naxos Island.
Folegandros, Greece ~ We venture off the beaten path, sailing the South Aegean to remote Folegandros Island where we moped dirt roads to find private slices of paradise.
Santorini, Greece ~ Our honeymoon extravaganza concludes at the bell of the ball... Santorini, where we trade hostels for luxury in our private apartment in Oia overlooking the caldera views.
New York City, NY (USA) ~ Tom and I visit my brother and friends in NYC again... this time finding a new love for the coast at whimsical Coney Island, and stopping at all our traditional faves.
Boston, MA (USA) ~ Our first time in Boston, we visit my sister and brave the rain to explore it all! We tour Harvard campus, sip beers at Cheers, walk the many cobblestone streets, play in the parks, and even explore Fenway Park.
New Orleans, LA (USA) ~ Me and the girls bring the party to NOLA for a Bachelorette party where we tear up Bourbon Street and explore the surroundings... having an absolute blast every step of the way.
Vancouver, Canada ~ My family and I fly to awesome Vancouver as the jumping off point for a cruise... spending a few days exploring the city on foot and bike.
Ketchikan, Alaska ~ We board the ultimate Alaskan cruise and make our first pit stop in Ketchikan, where we zip-line through the trees at record speeds.
Juneau, Alaska ~ We set off on a 10 mile private hike through the rain forest and end up at Mendenhall Glacier where we strap on the crampons and ice-climb into the unrivaled ice caves.
Skagway, Alaska ~ A tamer woods hike is met with a float down the rivers of Skagway.
Glacial Inside Passage, Alaska ~ Two days are spent sailing the gorgeous glacial passageways of Alaska and watching for whales.
Puerto Maldonado, Peru ~ In July 2014, we make our first trip to South America to explore Peru! Our first stop - the Amazon Rainforest... we canoe the piranha-filled water and trek the giant forest searching for monkeys, caimans, tarantulas, and exotic birds.
Cusco, Peru ~ We fall in love with the plaza and locals of Cusco, and horseback ride through outside ruins above the mountains.
Aguas Calientes, Peru ~ We drive through mountain towns and train it through waterfalls to the city of Aguas Calientes... the jumping off point for unrivaled Machu Picchu. We marvel at its glory from every angle and climb the ultimate peak of Wayna Picchu to take in the views.
Lake Titicaca, Peru ~ We set sail from Puno onto Lake Titicaca, where we explore the floating Uros Islands and live with locals on the volcanic islands of Isla Amantani and Isla Taquile.
Arequipa, Peru ~ We settle in the city of Arequipa with its historic monastery, bustling plaza, and wonderful restaurants, and enjoy the ultimate adventure of white water-rafting on the Rio Chili.
Colca Canyon, Peru ~ Our Peruvian trip concludes with a challenging three day hike through the deepest canyon in the world where we bunk in huts, make worldwide friends, watch condors soar, test our physical limits, and are finally rewarded with a natural oasis.
Orlando, FL (USA) ~ Me and the family travel to Disney World and Universal Studios, spending four days acting like children in the very best of ways.
Cape Town, South Africa ~ Tom and I continue down the bucket list with our trip to Africa in the summer of 2015. The first stop is gorgeous Cape Town where we explore Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront, dine on delicious (cheap) meals, and fall in love with South Africa.
Cape Point, South Africa ~ Our road trip begins due South with a stop to see the penguins at Boulders Beach, then the lighthouses of Cape Point and the crashing waves at the southernmost point of Africa... the Cape of Good Hope.
Stellenbosch, South Africa ~ Quality grape time is spent at the beautiful South African wineries of Stellenbosch where we taste our way through reds and whites and take in the scenic views.
Hermanus, South Africa ~ We continue heading East along the Garden Route to the fishing village of Hermanus where we sail with the massive Southern Right Whales, gentle giants of the sea.
Gansbaai, South Africa ~ In Gansbaai, we test our fate while cage-diving with wild great white sharks.
Wilderness, South Africa ~ Have you ever ridden an ostrich? Whelp, head to Oudtshoorn. Then head to Wilderness where our beach side mansions are met.
Plettenberg Bay, South Africa ~ Walk with full-grown cheetahs, explore Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, then plummet the largest commercial bungee jump with us in Plettenberg Bay.
Botswana, Africa ~ Jet to Johannesburg and board an overland truck heading north through Botswana... where we viewed every animal possible from our river cruise in Chobe National Park and saw a pride of lions on safari.
Zimbabwe, Africa ~ Safari through Hwange National Park and see every animal thinkable in the flesh!
Zambia, Africa ~ Toy with death at the edge of Victoria Falls, fly in a moped with wings over the water, and explore the "Smoke that Thunders" on foot.
Nashville, TN (USA) ~ Me and the girls take on Nashville (for no apparent reason)... tearing up the town 24-7... Best friends in the heart and soul of Country music? YES! #Nashvi11e
Nashville, TN (USA) ~ Yep... I couldn't get enough.. Less than two weeks later, another road trip down to "Music City" was in store... this time with my crazy mom, cousin, and sister! Yee-haw!
Asheville, NC (USA) ~ A family visit to our aunts in North Carolina brings adorable shop exploring, art fairs, delicious dinners, and a trip up the Blue Ridge Mountains.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Island ~ Just after Christmas 2015, Tom and I spend some time in St. Thomas, checking out the beaches and clear blue water... waiting for our friends to fly in and the main event to commence!
Tortola, British Virgin Islands ~ Two couples explore the BVI island hopping and enjoy our indescribable villa in the remote mountains of glorious Tortola.
Jost Van Dyke, BVI ~ We ring in the new year at the ULTIMATE beach party at world-renowned Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke island in the British Virgin Islands. Epic.
Virgin Gorda, BVI ~ Our foursome takes on true adventure as we stumble our way through the volcanic boulders at the Baths and rope climb through lagoons to a private beach at Devil's Bay on the beautiful island of Virgin Gorda.
Norman Island, BVI ~ We charter a catamaran, make friends, and sail the waves all day, stopping at Norman Island and the Indians where we explore the magical underworld snorkeling and jump high off of floating restaurant/bar Willy T's.
No matter the destination or the dream, try to make it happen. There are always reasons not to and the wallet is always hard to open... but the memories are worth it in the end. Dream big, work hard, play hard... Inspire!
My brother Zach’s college graduation from New York University had come quick, and it was the perfect time to go back to New York City before the hot summer days were upon us. So a weekend trip in early June of 2012 was met with some jam-packed days and cocktail-sipping nights. Upon arrival we checked into our suave NYC hotel right in Times Square and started the trip off right with dirty martinis at a posh neighborhood tavern. We ventured south and met Zach and his girlfriend Liz at one of their favorite local Indian restaurants where the food is cheap and authentic, and the atmosphere can’t be beat. We haggled for free appetizers and ate round after round of delectable Indian cuisine until we could no longer… sitting happily under the thousands of red lights strung ornamentally from the ceiling. It was a gay old time. We cooled our spicy pallets on some beers at the nearby McSorley’s Ale House before getting late night cheesecake goodness and turning in… tomorrow would be a big day.
We woke to a gloomy day and anxiously headed over to Yankee Stadium where the New York University Graduation would be held. It was my first time at the Stadium which was exciting, as was the bevy of parents and the many students, all gleeful their accomplishment and openly optimistic of whatever would come next. A sea of purple graduation caps colored the stands of the commanding Yankee Stadium… the band played and the commencement begin. The inspiring and heartfelt speech by US Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor was the highlight, and soon we were outside searching desperately for our graduate among the thousands of people waiting to congratulate the class of 2012.
Zach was found with some of his friends, and the standard congratulatory photos were taken in his obnoxious cap and gown. The subway was too crowded to even describe, so we gave up, walked a few blocks, and settled at a local sports pub where we scored a table and scarfed down sandwiches, waiting out the crowd. We were finally able to take the subway back downtown, and passed the day walking around Times Square watching street artists and snapping photos.. we visited our favorite staples of the area, playing the ultimate tourists and not caring whatsoever. (I even took a photo with the infamous “Naked Cowboy”) We ventured further out towards Canal Street and at last, Little Italy… our favorite! I just love roaming the streets of Little Italy, smelling the homemade pasta goodness and taking in the scene… it has so much character it is like you have stepped onto the set of a movie. We did this until our stomachs were growling, which we satisfied with an amazing meal at one of my Dad’s favorite restaurants. Yum!
The next day was undoubtedly my favorite. Having gotten recently engaged, I was amidst baby’s first steps of wedding planning, and had been on the dress hunt. Previous years had me hooked on the TLC reality show dedicated to the art of the wedding gown… Say Yes To The Dress. I had spent hours online looking at various gowns and realized the overwhelming task this can become: white or off-whites, beaded or lace, A-line or fitted, train or non-traditional... it was no small feat! So it was perfect timing that we were heading to New York, home of KLEINFELD BRIDAL (the high-end fashion boutique for wedding gowns known round the world… and also home to Say Yes To The Dress), which houses the best designers and unique looks that even Chicago’s finest boutiques do not carry. So without ever having tried a dress on, I thought, what a better place to start? And I innocently booked an appointment.
So back to our third morning… I woke up and readied for the adventure ahead… my first wedding dress shopping experience! As we saw the tall glass doors of KLEINFELD inviting us in, I was admittedly nervous… like I was meeting the president or something. The place did not disappoint. Immediately upon entering, the place exudes confidence with its elegant décor, high ceilings, and plush furniture. Everything beige and white – the stars of the show (the gowns) line every wall, gleaming under perfect lighting and exaggerating their competing flare. The place was exclusive, appointment-only, and had only a few brides trying on gowns at once, which added even more class. A thick wad of printed photos in hand, I was overly prepared for the task ahead having researched my ideal fit and favorite designers. But would KLEINFELD have them? Of course! Little did I know this would be my only dress shopping experience, as just the second gown I draped around my body would be it. I had secretly hoped it would be “the one”, as it was by far the front runner in all my online preparation. One look in the mirror in this Lazaro ball gown and I was done for… fighting tears and breaking out into a rash of excitement – god I was girly. I tried on several more just to make sure, and in the end could not have been more confident. I was ecstatic to wear my choice once again and stand gloriously in front of the full-length garnished mirrors on a carpeted pedestal, my parents and brother looking on in approval and adoration. I was a bride!
Unable to wear off my excitement the rest of the afternoon, we shopped around and took a tour of Zach’s NYU classrooms where he learned the art of acting, TV and film, etc. Our sweet tooth was satisfied as we stopped for over-priced cupcakes at Billy’s Bakery, and ran into an assistant to Martha Stewart who was picking up pounds of homemade frosting for her show. We enjoyed the gorgeous day walking the parks and meeting Liz’s parents who were in town for the graduation as well. Our group of seven dined on flatbreads and bruschetta at an unassuming Italian spot before heading to a fundraiser event for Zach and Liz’s theatre troupe. The night of drinking and socializing was topped off with cheap slices of thin New York-style pizza.
The next day would be the smaller graduation ceremony for the Tisch school of theatre. We dressed up and walked to the nearby auditorium where the names of each graduate were called, and onstage they went to receive their diplomas… a paper invitation to the real world. After a long day, we had yet another celebratory dinner, this time at the highly anticipated Fig & Olive… and what decadent cuisine it was!
Our final day offered another gorgeous day of sun – we took full advantage. Jumping on the subway to Brooklyn, we met Zach and Liz and set out for the afternoon. To the gorgeous parks it was… we made it through several long stretches of Prospect Park, and onto the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. We climbed trees like kids and gawked fondly at the colorful scene of never-ending flower beds. This city can be over-the-top, dirty, and unrelenting. But if you look closely, you will find a little bit of magic.
For the full album of this trip, click here or visit the Photos Page.
[May 2012] Family was heading there – friends were on their way… all signs were pointing towards Tom and I to venture back over to the East coast for some classic NYC adventure. Our flight and two public bus combo was met with some traffic, albeit relief from the over-priced taxi service which we refuse to succumb to, Manhattan… $60 for a 20 minute ride? I don’t think so. Before we knew it we were towing our luggage on the upper east side to a friend’s conveniently located apartment just blocks from Central Park. Four of Tom’s buddies and myself, the only gal, celebrated this sunny day on the private apartment rooftop with a few cold ones in hand.
Soon it was time to venture south where we met my family at a classic upscale diner, Café Cluny where we feasted on tasty eggs benedict and lip-smacking mimosas. We worked it off enjoying the gorgeous spring day by walking around and finding the unique High Line. The High Line is an old above-ground subway-turned sidewalk and park… where pedestrians have the rare opportunity to walk a flower-lined sidewalk for blocks, avoiding the crowded streets and noisy city below. We settled for lattes at an outdoor café on fifth avenue for some time to pass before heading to NYU’s Tisch theatre for Zach’s play… the main reason for our trip.
The student rendition of The Madras House was spectacular: from costumes to set, to the delivery of the complicated, well-rehearsed lines. We were agreeably impressed to say the least. After the show the family put Zach’s girlfriend to the test over cheap pizza and pitchers of beer. Suffice to say she won us over with her warm charm and genuine character.
Although I was absolutely exhausted, Tom and I had to fight the NYC madness to make our way back to the north end of the island where his friends were drinking the night away at a crowded bar. It was just about the last thing I wanted to do… but we were otherwise homeless. So we fought our heavy lids and joined in on the fun. Luckily it wasn’t long before our host forfeited his apartment keys so we could turn in early.
The next morning was greeted with more beautiful weather. While Tom and friends caught up with beers on the roof all day, I took advantage and walked to Central Park, wondering the unending grounds and snapping photos before settling in with a Bloody Mary at the lakeside eatery, The BoatHouse. I was soon met with my parents’ company and we enjoyed the entire afternoon chatting and drinking with a backdrop of tourists on gondola rides and turtles playfully lapping in their scenic domain. It was one of those perfect days to remember.
As the sun dropped, I made my tipsy way back to the boys who were undeniably a few more beers deep than myself. Okay, a lot more. So I did what anyone would do and joined in. One large rooftop party and one crazy bar later, Tom and I left the party and braved the rain for a fancy dinner with Zach and Liz and my folks. We tried decadent tapas at the candlelit cave-like restaurant. Of course, the party continued post-dinner as some late-night shenanigans were to be expected.
Our last morning we brunched with the family one last time on bottomless pancakes. The day was less than inviting with whipping winds and unforgiving rain, but Tom and I were determined to take advantage of our close proximity to the newly revealed 9/11 Memorial. We walked the grounds of the finely groomed park and stared sadly into the echoing fountains where the towers once stood. The architecture is fascinating… water flows seamlessly into the twin gaping holes into the earth, the names of brave citizens engraved into every inch of its’ strong granite exterior. The place is hauntingly beautiful and equally sad. We took it all in in silence and eventually made our way home, our hearts heavier. Never forget: United we stand, New York.
[Feb 2012] This trip was not much more than a break. A break from the monotony of work days and morning frost on the windshield. A break from a cold winter in Chicago and a bevy of responsibility. A cheap flight (can you say, Spirit airlines!?) and a free stay in Colleen’s parents condo minutes from the beach… and we were sold. Four friends (Meghan, Brooke, Colleen and myself) would venture to the Southeast tip of our country and thaw out in Fort Lauderdale for a good few days.
I waited at the airport upon arrival (I flew solo as no one else needed to deal with dreaded Spirit air) and was met with a threesome of drunks. The goal was to catch up on the balcony overlooking a hotel pool in the warm night air, and play cards in the lovely condo we would call home. The night hours whisked by and the beers went down smoothly. We may have been a little too excited for the trip ahead considering our 2am night swim shenanigans invited a premature scolding from the retired neighbors not fond of our drunken stupor.
We woke up to our first gorgeous day of sunlight and 80 degree weather. We headed straight for the beach where we walked off our hangovers, toes in the sand, and explored the town. The day's agenda: the pool. Sun, music, and friends were all we needed as the hours passed by. A sudden rainstorm was met with an intense water volleyball match between me and Colleen. We freshened up for a lovely seafood dinner in town and happy hour with two-for-one glasses of wine. The fresh Chilean Sea Bass and gorgeous beach views from our outdoor table were perfection… and followed by a slightly less quiet evening of Taylor Swift karaoke and dueling pianos. The walk back proved interesting with a stop at a random outdoor hotel pool with an easy-to-climb gate…
The next day we laughed at the night’s events over a seaside brunch and mimosas. We let our melanin kick in at the pool for the day before showering up for a great evening. Newly tanned and ready to go, we enjoyed calamari and drinks along the harbor downtown before boarding a booze cruise around the inlet. We gawked at the mansions lined with palm trees and made a few notable bar stops along the water’s edge. Martinis capped the night of bar crawling, along with a Frank Sinatra dance party back at our digs. Encore!
Our third day was a beach day with crashing waves as our soundtrack. We chatted and napped, read and enjoyed. We may have tried a self-timer photo shoot and ended up with a few too many photos, but we got one keeper out of it.
After a long day we dressed our best for a picture perfect sunset at a lovely hotel overlooking the shore. The sun dropped and sky lit up in color as we sipped overpriced white wine spritzers and swayed in old fashioned rocking chairs painted a milky white. It was hard to leave that porch of paradise, but we had sushi reservations awaiting us downtown. Our scenic table set on the corner of the restaurant above a creek cutting through town was ideal – and we celebrated by ordering a bevy of sushi rolls. And by that I mean: way too much. I have never eaten so much sushi in my life – it somehow turned into a personal challenge to see if we could finish our ridiculous over-ordering… a hot dog eating contest of sorts with cold fish instead of ballparks. What a mistake. Our foursome was visibly hurting as we tried waddling our way through the cute shops of town, before giving up and heading back to the condo to rest our aching bellies. Tums, anyone?
We woke up significantly rested and overly burned. It turns out our all-day beach extravaganza was a little heavy on the sun and low on the SPF. My calves were so burned I felt tingles up my legs with every step! Luckily the weather was faulty this day so we didn’t feel guilty hidden inside watching scary movies and eating pizza. We did venture out for a casual dinner at Hooters – and freshened up for a much-needed night of dive bar-hopping.
[November 4, 2011] A somewhat impromptu girls’ trip was at hand in the Fall of 2011… so me, my mom Diane, and older sister Ashley would venture to the Big Apple for some quality girl time, (and some visits with my brother, Zach). The guarantees: a lot of shopping, a lot of cocktails, a lot of laughs.
Our flight was fun-filled… compliments of several mini bottles of lemon and black cherry vodka that Diane stealthily snuck on the plane. Before we knew it we had arrived in New York City and were greeted by Zach who brought us to one of his favorite local spots for cheap and authentic Indian cuisine. The place was adorable – we haggled for free appetizers while sitting below thousands of red festive lights… you even had to duck to walk below the starry ceiling. The food was of honorable mention… from the veggie paneer all the way to the tandoori chicken and buttery naan. WOW. It seemed my taste buds had transported me all the way back to India.
We washed down the spicy goodness with cheap beers bought at the convenience shop across the street, and capped the night with a few too many light beers brewed at one of my favorite NYC past-times… McSorley’s Old Ale House, [established in 1854]. One bar later and we were agreeably exhausted from the exciting day. Back to the room, we faced an imminent struggle to remove Diane’s tall boots from her swollen feet. That we did, and turned in for some much-needed shuteye.
The crisp morning brought a stroll, (lattes in hand), down the financial district, and then onto SoHo. With nowhere to be, we were thrilled with our “no agenda” day, and turned to window shopping in the lower west side. SoHo is a wonderful, somewhat underrated gem of Manhattan. The adorable shops, quiet side streets, and fashion-forward shopping bring the place to life. We spent all day wondering modestly through the shops, mostly looking, and buying a couple things here or there… To rest our sorry soles, we had Bloody Mary breaks at Gatsby’s pub, and a search for the “world’s best” chocolate cake shop, which turned out to be rather disappointing.
We later fancied up in our pint-sized hotel room for the night ahead… and met Zach downtown at the delicious Gradisca, a favorite of my parents’ for dining in NYC. We sipped the best martinis, pureed with fresh passion fruit, and dined on small plates and meats. Next stop was the trendy Bubble Lounge – an exclusive champagne bar serving delicious handmade cocktails and expensive bubbly. We sat on the swanky couches watching young socialites and rich entrepreneurs, pretending to fit in. A few cocktails later, I was anything but fitting in with my self-made dance party.
The last morning us girls enjoyed coffee outside a small café before visiting Zach’s new apartment and checking out his slightly above average, college-style digs. A long wait was in store at a local Brooklyn diner, after which we bid adieu to Zach and continued our “girls take over Manhattan” film reel. We jumped on the subway headed back across the bridge into Manhattan, where we played the ultimate tourists in visiting Radio City, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. I played photographer and we scarfed down street hot dogs which were admittedly less than fulfilling. Chicago hotdogs prevail… no contest.
Our last few hours were spent sheltered from the rain in over-priced stores, and finally, the woman’s dream that is Bergdorf Goodman. We explored each floor and laughed at the ridiculous price tags, finally gawking at the gorgeous Christian Louboutin shoe art, which left us wanting. Diane refused, despite our best sister efforts, to purchase the $700 pair of Valentino patent pumps, so off we went to catch our flight… no shopping bags in tow. Nonetheless, it was a trip that was short but oh so sweet. No one telling us where to be or what to do, the city was ours so we did nothing but enjoy. In our books, it was a success. After all, girls just want to have fun…
It has been 5 month since I posted – woops! Back at it now…
[June 15, 2011] I arrived at the modern Jaipur airport with ample time to relax in the rare air conditioning and board my flight south to Hyderabad… only to realize the flight had been cancelled and there was only one left for the next 24 hours that I had to book and run to in less than a half hour! Needless to say I did the booking change at two counters, got my refund, and frantically ran to the gate just in time.
Upon arrival in Hyderabad – my last stop on this whirlwind India tour – I was comforted to see the familiar faces of my co-worker Rao, his wife Sunita, and adorable daughter Tanvi greeting me with smiles at the airport. I was happy to have left the dusty rural roads of Rajasthan… For the next three days I would be spoiled in getting a homestay with this great family in their sizeable home, topped off with mouth-watering home-cooked meals three times a day by the house chef, and personally-guided tours of the city. After living out of a backpack in questionable hostels and completely solo the last two weeks this was a breath of fresh air.
I noticed almost immediately that Hyderabad was a much larger city with a lot more first world influence and advantages than where I had visited previous. Brand named stores, shiny shopping malls, and nice cars were passed as Rao drove me from the airport to his beautiful home in the city, where I was pleasantly greeted with a huge bedroom to myself housing a king bed with down blankets. The home was modern and clean, with marble floors and high ceilings, a large kitchen and pretty garden outside. Sunita gave me a welcome flower handpicked from her garden that smelled like jasmine and ginger.
After settling in we fought rush hour traffic to make a supermarket stop. The kids (youngest daughter Tanvi and two older sons) started school that week and needed supplies and food. It was interesting to wonder the supermarket and laugh at the small portions and unique brands I had never seen. At home that night we enjoyed a delicious meal of chicken, naan, rice, vegetable paneer, and yogurt (to relieve the intense spiciness for my American taste buds). It was shocking to sit amongst an upper class Indian family in the comfort of their spacious and expensive home, eating with nothing but their bare hands. It was a custom I would have to get used to over the next few days… Fork, please! By 9pm I was beat – so I turned in early to my king-sized bed and didn’t need to count any sheep to fall asleep.
Suddenly it is morning and I am woken early by an anxious little Tanvi, hoping to get some play time in with me before she left for school at 7am. I kindly took a rain check and slept another hour. Sorry, dear. My nose later woke me up to the scent of a delicious and warm homemade breakfast I could not resist. An unusual crepe-like dish dipped in several spicy sauces and yogurt was a surprisingly delicious combination, along with fresh leche juice and mangos. Fully rested from yesterday’s events, I was ready for Sunita’s fun-filled day!
First, Rao drove me to the area where our company offices are – SenecaGlobal – in the High Tech City of Hyderabad. Familiar software, tech, and brand names decorated modern office buildings in the ever-growing expanse of High Tech City – a hub of international technology. The “city” had all been developed within the past five years! Safe to say Hyderabad was catching on quickly to the opportunities in technology and software development… I took a tour of the SenecaGlobal offices, met the partners, and was embarrassingly introduced to the one hundred+ employees watching my every move with curious eyes.
After High Tech Park I met up with Sunita to go on a shopping trip to some of her favorite stores. While most of the conservative Indian garb was not my style, I settled on a colorful frock and jewelry ensemble for an upcoming wedding. Next we visited Tanvi’s elementary school, one of the few private, uniformed all-girl schools with a good reputation. A highlight of the school visit was walking through the cafeteria at lunchtime to greet Tanvi, where all of the girls [grades 1 – 8] stared at me with confused and shocked eyes. Several of the braver girls even greeted me for a hug and asked where I was from, only to run full-speed back to their table of friends and report the news, giggling with excitement. While this school was not much different than those we have in the States, I had to consciously remind myself that these privileged tots in their fancy uniforms were not the norm.
After impressing Sunita with the amount of food I consumed at our next homemade lunch, it was time to play dress up! Tanvi got home from school just in time to join us in draping ourselves in the finest formal wear and silk Indian saris that Sunita had. I chose a beautiful aqua green sari with hand-embroidered elephant stitching with small beads and mirrors adorning the edges. Sunita tediously draped the yards of fabric (it laid accros the entire bedroom!) around my body in perfect symmetry to create the dress it became, tucking and pinning every which way. After accessorizing with earrings and a jewel placed in the center of my forehead… I had transformed into an Indian princess! I loved the look – and had a lot of fun doing a “photo shoot” with Sunita and Tanvi in the garden.
Sad to put normal clothes back on, Rao and my new girlfriends took me to our next destination: Golconda Fort _ the historic castle towering over the city of Hyderabad. We spent the entire evening touring the old stone walls and corridors with a guide, and were impressed by the innovative architecture, hidden engineering feats, and great history of the place. We listened to great stories as we climbed the 350+ stairs to the top and were rewarded with all-encompassing views of the city below! When the sun dropped, we watched an hour-long video/light show of the fort and ate ice cream. Another scrumptious dinner at home and one tired Tanvi later, we were off to bed early.
…My last day in India had arrived! I got an early start at 5:30am to walk the local park and trail with Sunita and Rao. The quiet oasis of trees and flowers was a nice change from the loud city – and the national bird of India, the peacock, was everywhere! I chased them for pictures but failed miserably. After a quick breakfast I changed into my last piece of clean clothing and set off for the “Old City” district of Hyderabad with Sunita and her adorable friend Latha. Latha was a boisterous and modern woman who I liked immediately, and the three of us had a blast as we shopped around the Charminar [monument/mosque built in 1591] haggling for good prices on bangles and memorabilia. Being probably the busiest street I saw in all of India, we left when we could no longer stand the dozens of vendors and scam artists constantly approaching – this place had character to say the least!
Next, we girls dined on a well-deserved all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at a fancy hotel, where I made it my personal goal to try every dish and desert. It is safe to say I gained back any of the weight I had lost in India while in Hyderabad alone. After leaving Latha and getting Tanvi from school, the family and I toured the rest of the city before settling in for dinner at a famed restaurant claiming the best Biryani in town… and it was! We topped off the delectable meal with tiny ice cream scoops frozen into hand-made clay pots which we kept as souvenirs. On the way home I felt the drops of my first Indian rain, and we snapped photos of the massive Buddha statue in the center of a lake which changed colors with a lightshow at night. We were going to visit a temple but it was closed due to the full moon – but I was not disappointed as I knew I had some serious packing to do before my early flight and 27-hour travel day that awaited me tomorrow.
India was a trip that will stick with me forever. It has already been 3 years since my return, and I still think of it often, and fondly. The unique experiences, wonderful people, and crazy sights I saw along the way truly opened my eyes to a world unknown, and incalculably different from my own. It further justified my love of independent travel and allowed me to be myself and fully immerse in the country. It made me realize there is truthfully a whole world out there to explore… a world I plan to see.
[June 14th, 2011] Stepping off the train at 5am onto the familiar Jaipur platform was in a way comforting. I had a few hours to kill before my afternoon flight to Hyderabad and was relieved to have zero agenda. A wrinkle in my non-plan came upon realizing I had absentmindedly left my books and handwritten journal on the train bed in a hurry to get off in time. I was admittedly distraught about losing the journal in particular, and was determined to get it back. This oversight ended up leading to a wonderful day in Jaipur with a new local friend, Ali, who selflessly obliged in helping me get back my possessions just because. What followed suit was a meeting with the foreign ticket booth at the train, (my new friend playing translator for the dumb American), a call to have the belongings transported to another train on its way back, and a thirty minute auto rickshaw ride with Ali to the next station over… only to find the journal was not taken off the train and would have to be transported on another train back. I’d have to return to the original station hours later to see if the afternoon train employees had delivered the journal back to the Jaipur station – and the chances weren’t good.
I took advantage of having a new friend and part-time auto rickshaw driver in Ali, and we spent the day enjoying Jaipur. I was brought to a beautiful temple where watched the dedicated holy men and women dressed to the nines in colorful garbs at 7am. After temple was over I hesitantly meandered through the marble doors and into the gorgeous temple where I sat cross-legged on the floor in my own personal meditation. The scene was serene and I could have sat there undisturbed for hours.
Next Ali and I rode around the pink city, stopping at a city museum where I chased pigeons like a child and patronizing several shops in a hunt for the perfect elephant trinket to symbolize my elephant ride in Jaipur days prior. The time passed as afternoon approached and I loved sitting in the auto rickshaws with the other drivers, all friends, sipping hot chia they gave me for free while exchanging stories and learning about one another. They were just as interested in me as I was them – and I felt lucky to be so welcomed into this laid back street life. Ali brought me to his favorite street stand where he fetched me a tin plate of fresh cooked Biryani, (chicken and rice dish popular of India), and we enjoyed it sitting on a dirty curb watching life go by. While I had been warned of street food in India, this was amongst the best meals I had in my entire time there. The chicken was cooked to perfection and the spices complimented each other bringing out a new flavor I had never experienced – all a testament to the work and passion these street stalls put into each plate. Wow.
Before I knew it, it was time to venture back to the train station to see if my books were found… fingers crossed. When the friendly ticket officer handed me a delicately wrapped package with my name on it, I almost couldn’t believe it... I was reunited with my possessions! At this point I cared less about the journals and more about the selfless generosity I was shown by the Indian people… the same type I had experienced everywhere I had been the last week and a half.
Ali, his cousin and I celebrated with some cold Kingfisher beers in a rundown empty restaurant, its biggest draw being a hard-working fan. We sat for over two hours candidly discussing the differences in our lifestyles and cultures. We ventured over topics of politics, strong family life in India, religious beliefs, even gay marriage. It was one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had and I was grateful to exchange thoughts with another 24-year old completely different from myself, in a comfortable and friendly environment.
When it was time for my two o’clock flight to the next city, I was sad to say goodbye to my new friends. I was conversely excited to be in an air-conditioned, clean airport headed for a bigger city. My flight was cancelled but I was able to quickly make an exchange and run to the gate in time for my alternate route…. The only flight out in 23 hours. I was headed south out of the Rajasthan state and into Andhra Pradesh… to its booming capital city of Hyderabad, (the fourth most populous city in India behind Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore respectively). There I would be greeted by my father’s co-worker Rao and his welcoming family of five whom I have spent extensive time with in the United States. I was looking forward to staying in an actual home with familiar faces and home-cooked meals, and seeing what this final chapter of India had to offer.