Souvenir Story: Curacao 2017

A few weeks ago, I decided to write my first “souvenir story” on my time in Paris and I’m really happy with the response - you guys seemed to really like it! So I figured I’d keep them coming, and dedicate my next one to one of my new favorite destinations, Dutch Caribbean paradise, Curacao.

I found this souvenir as I was wandering around (just like I did in Paris), which makes all the more precious to me. This is a pretty little hunk of dead brain coral that I found on our excursion to Klein Curacao, a small deserted island somewhere in between Curacao and Bonaire, it’s neighboring Dutch island to the east.

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Visiting Curacao is probably one of my happiest and most vivid trips in recent memory, and that could be for a bunch of reasons. Our excursion to the deserted island was on our second to last day of our trip, and we had just spent the previous few days snorkeling, getting sunburnt, ATVing through the incredible landscape, and overall having the time of our lives. It was a great chance for my three good friends and I to catch up, whether it was over (multiple) rum punches and sing alongs on our balcony at night or as we tossed around the GoPro in the tropical lagoon just steps from our door.

 Our ATV stop at the aloe farm to soothe our sun-abused skin.

Our ATV stop at the aloe farm to soothe our sun-abused skin.

By Day 4, I was near sun poisoned (peep the rash guard in all of my photos from that day), but unwilling to call it quits. It started with a turbulent early morning catamaran ride from the harbor on the main island, through the gorgeous Caribbean Sea to our destination. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen water quite as blue and vibrant as it was in the shallows as we swam up to shore from the boat at Klein Curacao.

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We had a few hours to explore the island, have lunch and drinks on the boat, and snorkel to our heart’s content before leaving later that afternoon. First we decided to claim our spot on the beach under some shade (thankfully for our very burnt bodies, we found some), then walk out to the lighthouse.

Pro tip: DON’T BE A MORON LIKE ME AND GO BAREFOOT.

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Sure, our walk began on the gentle white sand beaches on the west side of the island, but it quickly turned into what the majority of the island is covered in - crushed shells and lava rocks. And while I was at the mercy of a few succulent plants to cushion the pain, I would 1000% recommend bringing at least a pair of flops. Obviously.

I’ve always loved exploring abandoned, old, decaying places - whether they’re spooky hospital buildings from this century or old castles and ruins from hundreds or thousands of years ago. Built in 1850 and long since abandoned, the lighthouse on Klein Curacao sits in the middle of the island, pummeled day in and day out with salty, humid air, making it pretty unstable despite being restored several times since. Its weathered pink walls and crumbling exterior are proof that it’s lost in time, a ghostly relic as old as the island itself.

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While I did see a few daring visitors walk a literal plank across to reach the staircase of the main tower, I made the excuse to my friends (and myself) that I’d definitely need shoes to try that. Maybe next time?

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From there we trekked across more lava rocks toward a giant shipwreck up against the eastern shore of the island. I actually never learned what it was called while I was there, but it’s a super interesting find. The Maria Bianca Guidesman, an oil tanker, ran aground sometime in the 60’s and has been coming apart in pieces against the rough surf ever since. There are a few other boats, debris and, sadly, garbage washed up around that area, which was fun to explore but probably not the safest.

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Snorkeling on Klein Curacao was by far the best I’ve ever experienced. I’ve gone in Mexico and Turks and Caicos, and neither compare to the vast amount of wildlife in the areas we snorkeled in Klein Curacao. The most amazing part was getting to see and swim with a full grown green sea turtle right on the reef near the boat! We tried to frantically get some photos of him as he swam by, but it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

 *Disclaimer: my friends got way better photos with the turtle.

*Disclaimer: my friends got way better photos with the turtle.

They’re so peaceful, moving more like eagles through the water than anything else. Sea turtles have been a part of our lives and culture for thousands of years, many of the native peoples recognizing them as a symbol of wisdom, longevity, and the signal of a long and rewarding journey. And I can definitely understand why - up close, you can’t help but sense that they just know something we don’t know. They’re mysterious and beautiful, and their elusiveness makes them all the more special to see in their natural habitat.

 Stolen from my friend Amanda, who also wrote about our trip [ here ]

Stolen from my friend Amanda, who also wrote about our trip [here]

Traveling to Curacao was a wonderfully spontaneous and unique adventure for my friends and me. Right now, their growing tourism is allowing for more affordable accommodations and more frequent deals on flights from the US (we happened to snap up a $300 rt deal from JFK!) so I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to get down there as soon as you can. Here’s a little round-up of where I stayed, comparable prices, and some recommendations to give you an idea of what to expect.

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Adventuring Through Ixtapa

I sort of had an epiphany the other day.

Why am I not making videos for this blog yet?

I was recently sorting through some of my camera roll from the past couple months and spent a lot of time on my photos from my last trip down to Ixtapa, Mexico in February. This place holds a really special place in my heart because I’ve been there three times. My friends with timeshare connections down at Pacifica Resort have been generous enough to invite me down there to the cliffside complex right on a gorgeous open bay.

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Our days were filled with fresh tropical fruits for breakfast, days spent relaxing in the pool or swimming the in the ocean, and reuniting with old friends. Our nights were fueled by tequila, and laughs, and dance battles, and midnight swims. There’s something about revisiting a place like that and having feel little more like home every time. And while we’ve gotten to know the staff as well as some of the other guests, there are always new things to see in our resort town of Ixtapa and the larger fishing town it’s a municipality of, Zihuatanejo.

I decided that out of all the keepsakes and journals I tend to keep from my travels, videos capture those memories the best. This video was taken on a wide angle action camera *similar* to the GoPro (but this one only cost me around $40 instead of $200+) from random shots I compiled over the week I spent there a few months ago. I basically only shot things when I remembered to, and passed the camera from one person to another to get as many candids as I could - and I think that’s why I loved the final product.

I definitely have to decide how I want to divide up my content; I want to vlog as much as possible, but don’t wanna let these posts fall by the wayside. Until I figure something out, please give this video a watch and subscribe to my Youtube channel to keep track of when new videos come out! I have some great ideas for New York and beyond this autumn, and I can’t wait for you all to come along with me.

Souvenir Story: Paris 2014

So this week, I wanted to introduce something kind of new to the blog. Normally, my posts have consisted of places I’ve visited recently, so far just over this past summer. But something kind of hit me while I zoned out the other day, staring at my mom’s “souvenir closet” in the corner of the living room. Inside, my parents have filled an old glass-paneled wooden cabinet with various trinkets, big and small, from the places we’ve gone as a family, and things I’ve brought back from all my trips.

The first one I decided to include in this little throwback is this kitschy little plastic Eiffel Tower keychain that *DISCLAIMER* I did not actually buy. I’ve never been one to buy a ton of crap when I go away. This is mostly because I usually have no room in my suitcase, but I also always prioritize things like food, nightlife, and excursions over bringing physical things home.

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(Take only photos, leave only footprints, amirite???)

That being said, I do try and come home with one little thing (especially if it’s for my parents or sister) that will remind me of everywhere I’ve been. One thing I love about holding something tangible like that in your hand, is that it will always take you back to where you got it, who you were with, and what your adventure was like, creating its own unique snapshot of that experience that will never leave you.

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This origins of this little Eiffel Tower began, coincidentally, at the end of my time living in Paris. For five weeks, from the end of September to early November I ate more stinky cheese and croissants than I thought humanly possible, saw more art than I’d ever seen in my first 20 years combined, and nearly ran out of money.

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I got to see so much of this incredible city and still only barely scratched the surface. Because we were part of a study abroad program, we had 1-2 excursions weekly with teachers and other program directors to places around Paris. I was so bummed that I had to miss the last one to Père Lachaise Cemetery (although I can’t for the life of me remember why), so I decided, just two days before we were to leave Paris, I’d set off and explore the star of the 20th Arrondissement on my own.

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So, like, I don’t have to tell you that walking through a graveyard by yourself is creepy.

Halfway through, I think I even put my headphones in because I was really spooked. Besides that, it was really awesome, and definitely a much different activity than just following a Google map to the monuments around Paris. I was holding a paper map written in French, trying to follow the winding paths to find some of the famous tombs - among them were Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Modigliani, Chopin, Jim Morrison and lots of others. I could only find Jim. :(

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While I wasn’t successful in finding like anybody, the tombs I walked through where nonetheless, haunting and gorgeous. Some were overgrown, cracked and warped by tree roots and weather over the years. It was in such direct juxtaposition with the spotless and elegant aesthetic of the rest of Paris. I think it was a grit that I really started to miss having been there for so long.

Somewhere along the way, before I actually made it to see Jim Morrison’s resting place, I found this little gold Eiffel Tower on the ground, presumably abandoned or lost by its previous owner. Besides a couple of Monet prints I picked up at Musée de l'Orangerie, I realized I hadn’t gotten my usual little trinket to bring home with me, so I figured it was meant to be.

I get a really interesting feeling when looking back on that day, because it was the definition of bittersweet. I had loved my time in Paris, but was more than ready to move onto our last stop in the program, which was Rome. I was upset that I didn’t get to explore some of the most popular places in Paris, like Montmartre or Marais, and that lots of my days were eaten up by afternoon classes and tons of work (that semester was a doozy). I was upset that, unlike Seville beforehand, I never settled in or got to feel at home in Paris. I imagine I felt the discouragement lots of transplants feel when they first move to New York.

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My little Eiffel Tower is unique in that it doesn’t fill me with these enchanting “Midnight In Paris” kind of rosy-colored memories. That part of my study abroad was past the honeymoon stage, and I can look back on it as the times where I learned how not to travel, how not to spend my money, and how not to budget my time. I learned that some people aren’t meant to travel together, and that’s okay. I’ll forever be grateful for these lessons and will never ever take them for granted.

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I absolutely fell in love with Paris while I was there, despite feeling like an outsider. Since then, I think I’ve gotten used to this feeling, embraced it even. It’s a necessary mindset I think everyone should (even HAS to) go through if they truly want to travel the world, uninhibited. Until then, I’ll just keep adding to my list all of the things I’ll do next time I’m lucky enough to visit the city of lights.

I hope you guys enjoyed my first “souvenir story” post! Please let me know if you liked it - I have a cabinet full of stuff that I’d love to keep writing about. If this was helpful and you liked my little feature, feel free to share it or pin it below!

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Choosing Your Own Adventure in DC: The US Botanic Garden

I originally wanted to do a recap of all the museums I visited in Washington, D.C. before I concluded this series of posts on the blog. In the span of 2(ish) full days, I got to see the National Museum of Natural History, The Air and Space Museum, and the US Botanic Garden - all of which were fabulous, but like most museums, were too big be seen in their entirety.

 From "The Tropics" room at the US Botanic Garden.

From "The Tropics" room at the US Botanic Garden.

The Smithsonian Institute has 19 free museums along the National Mall and throughout the city catering to literally any interest one could possibly have. From modern art, to African American history, to botany, to the history of aviation, it’s impossible to see everything in a single visit. 

 This was at the National Museum of Natural History.

This was at the National Museum of Natural History.

So heading over to these sprawling galleries and exhibits becomes sort of a “choose your own adventure”, something a lot of really enthusiastic travelers might have to reconcile with once they get there. Once I did, I decided with my friends which ones seemed the most enjoyable, the least packed, and the easiest to get to depending on where we were during the day.

Out of the few we saw, my favorite by far was the U.S. Botanic Garden, so I wanted to share some shots I got in their breathtakingly gorgeous greenhouse and gardens. I really put my DSLR to work in this place.

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One of the first things I saw as we walked in was a gigantic corpse lily. I remember hearing about the one that bloomed in New York last year, but it was REALLY cool to see it in person. It wasn’t blooming or stinky when I was there, but I’m pretty okay with that.

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The room that the corpse flower was in was called “Garden Court” and the narrow fountains surrounded by tropical flowers, orange trees, and hanging plants looked exactly like the terrace gardens at Alhambra Palace in Granada.

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Basically, I could've spent all day (or the rest of my life) in this room. It was so gorgeous.

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 This is called a 'rain lily' and quite possibly my new favorite flower.

This is called a 'rain lily' and quite possibly my new favorite flower.

Next was the "tropics" room...it was also beautiful but I didn't stay long. Because of all the tropical vegetation, it was stiflingly hot in there, way too much to handle on an already sweltering 90 degree day.

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Next was the Orchid room...

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Then I got to see some really oddly shaped cacti and succulents in the "World Deserts" room.

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Almost stole one of these lemons from the "Mediterranean" room.

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Also wanted to leave you with a picture of this really pretty lily pond, though I honestly could not tell you which part of the building it was in. I guess you'll have to go find it for yourself!

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I had a lot of fun taking photos here at the US Botanic Garden, but honestly they didn't remotely do it justice. I didn't include a picture from every single room, but believe me there is SO much to see. If you're a fan of nature, make sure you carve out at least an hour or two to walk around and see their expansive collection of gorgeous plants.

If you liked this, make sure to pin it below!

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting D.C.

So let me preface this by saying that overall, I had a GREAT time in D.C. a few weeks ago and fully intend on going back soon. I got to attend a friend’s beautiful wedding, celebrate my birthday on U-Street, revisit some of our national monuments, and cover quite a lot of ground in the short time that I was there.

With that being said, there was definitely a learning curve on this trip. This was my first time back to D.C. as an “adult”, so here’s a few things I learned that you may want to make note of.

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1. Don’t Bring a Car to D.C.

The primary reason my friends and I were headed down to D.C. that weekend was for a wedding, so I figured with our extra stuff like garment bags full of dresses, driving would be the smartest thing to do right?

NO.

 Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Okay first of all, what you might save on an Amtrak by driving instead, you’ll immediately rack up in tolls (and gas). Sure, we had a nice comfortable ride down from NYC, but once we entered downtown D.C. en route to our first hotel near The White House, I seriously thought I was going to run someone down. I guess this is the truth in any new city, but between the odd setup of the streets, low traffic lights, and nonsensical one-ways, you’re in for at least half the frequency of panic attacks that I had. Which is still a lot.

Like most major cities, parking is also a nightmare. Most of the time, we left the car at the hotel because we had to pay $50+ a night just to park it there. Ugh. But when we did have the car, finding a metered spot/any parking was like next to impossible.

We had to deal with a broken meter, a $100 parking ticket, and near gridlock traffic at one point. Overall, so not worth it, guys.

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That being said, we were happy to learn that Uber in D.C. is actually really reasonable considering how much we’d pay regularly and at surge times in NYC, so that’s a really great option for anyone visiting. The Metro is also reliable from what I’ve seen; just keep an eye out on their hours of operation.

Normally, I’d say when in doubt just walk everywhere, especially around the Mall area where all the major sights are concentrated, but we definitely struggled a little with that. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Don’t Go To DC In the Summer

The heat and humidity we were hit with in a mid-August Washington DC seemed to render this city unwalkable - at least during the daytime. If you’re walking between icy, air-conditioned buildings and museums, I’d say sure - it’s doable. But the fact of the matter is that there’s so much more of D.C. to see, and it’s hard getting motivated to walk miles and miles during the day when it feels like the air is made of boiling hot soup. It really does take a toll.

 Ice cream was our only lifeline.

Ice cream was our only lifeline.

If you find yourself in a Southern city like D.C. (notice I didn’t say “The South” for fear of mass controversy), seriously don’t underestimate dressing for the weather. I wore sneakers and these cropped jeans two of the days exploring and have honestly never sweat more in my life. It was a struggle.

3. Don’t Miss Out on Smaller Neighborhoods

While my friends and I were really committed to museums and sightseeing, we definitely did our best to check out some of the smaller neighborhoods of the city. One mistake I think people make in a lot of major cities is getting way too caught up in all of the 'checklist items' to even enjoy the local flavor. It’s something I hear from people all the time when I mention NYC - they swear up and down how much they hate it, and then I find out they never left the lines and chaos of midtown.

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 Map  [via]

Map [via]

I got to spend a night exploring the U-Street corridor where we had AMAZING Ethiopian food at Dukem, the weirdest/most delicious gelato I’ve ever had at Dolcezza, and drinks at a few local spots including my new favorite bar, Cafe Saint-Ex.

Another recommendation is to stroll around the Capitol Hill Neighborhood - we stumbled upon it while wandering around after visiting the US Botanic Garden. Next time, I definitely want to see Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and Dupont Circle (that’s where our hotel was, but we never explored the area).

 

4. Don’t Leave D.C. at Rush Hour

I feel like this goes without saying, but I had no idea how bad it would be until we stupidly decided to try anyway. If you think New York or LA traffic is bad, jeez. You’ve seen nothing yet. It’s reason enough to follow my first recommendation NOT to drive in Washington, D.C. at all.

5. Don’t Do The Monuments During The Day (if You’re Strapped For Time)

Finally, if you’re only here for a night or a short weekend...just don’t waste your day looking at the monuments at the Mall. This is something I really regret not doing, considering how hot and crowded these popular tourist destinations get during the day. After learning more about them while we were there, I found out that these don’t close at night, and are stunningly lit up when it’s dark out.

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Photo [via]

Did I forget any? Let me know if you experienced any blunders while visiting Washington, D.C. or if any residents want to school me on some “don’ts” that I missed. Make sure to pin this if you found it helpful!

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Monument Hopping During D.C. High Season

I would say that walking around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in mid-August was kind of like walking in a herd of sheep...but the sheep were lost, walking into frame at the worst times, waiting in lines, and covered in sweat. Sweat like you’ve never felt, man.

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I hadn’t been to D.C. since I was 14 on a school trip. When I received an invite several months ago to my good friend’s wedding in D.C. (the main reason I went down there), I was really excited to rediscover the city as an “adult”.

While we only had a weekend down there, I was excited to plan some activities around the wedding to get to know the city a little more. I remembered bits and pieces of how beautiful the monuments and statues were, how clean it was, what it was like seeing the Hope Diamond for the first time...but one thing that seemed to have escaped my memory is the sheer volume of people and how hard it would be to maneuver around them.

 I realize there's a deceivingly small amount of people in this photo. Just trust me on this one. 

I realize there's a deceivingly small amount of people in this photo. Just trust me on this one. 

I learned the hard way that we’d shown up during peak or ‘high’ season in D.C., when everyone and their 18 family members who couldn’t come for the Cherry Blossom Festival decided to spend some of their summer vacation there instead. Not only did temperatures climb into the upper 80’s and 90’s, but hordes of people would descend upon the National Mall, and the line outside the National Museum of American History would wrap around blocks and intimidate those who were just there to see the giant star spangled banner (which is still very, very cool).

That being said, there is so much history to see down in Washington, D.C., and all challenges aside, nothing really kept us from enjoying the monuments and large public areas of the Mall (museums...were a different story).

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After a frustrating ordeal of finding available and legal parking around the Lincoln Memorial area, my two friends and I endured the heat and followed the droves of people walking in that direction. We had seen the Washington Monument up close the day earlier, but decided to focus on the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool on that Saturday.

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I had seen this exact area when I was in D.C. years ago, but as I’m sure it does to even locals, it still took my breath away. We climbed what seemed like 500 stairs on that 90 degree day (it was 58), stopping along the way to get some very satisfyingly symmetrical shots of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument in the distance.

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One thing that was really different was the now unavoidable presence of cell phones, selfies, selfie sticks, Snapchat, and all other trademarks of 2017 that were pretty much non-existent on my last trip here in 2009. Listen, I’ve been to other famous monuments, I’ve been to concerts, and I’ve walked through Midtown Manhattan - I get it. Everyone’s gotta get a picture! Hey, how did you think I got all of these?

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Maybe it was the volume of people, but I had to circle around the crowd on both sides of the statue to even get close enough for some of these photos because I kept walking into people’s frames, into their selfie sticks, or into their arms because they weren’t paying attention. It was just a lot.

Now, if this place was empty? Or even had half the people in it? I could stay here for hours. The seated Abraham Lincoln towers 30 feet over visitors, housed in a classical Greek-style columned structure commanding their attention like Zeus himself. On the north and south walls beside him, I got to read his second inaugural address and Gettysburg address before exiting down the steps where I stumbled upon a little spot that most visitors probably don’t even see.

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On my way to find the bathroom about halfway down the steps, I see on the other side of the entrance there’s a tiny little museum! I didn’t get any pictures because I only did a quick sweep, but definitely go check it out. There are mock ups of the memorial before it was built, old equipment used to carve the marble stone, and lots of other historical tidbits. It’s also an amazing place to cool off because it was sweltering when we were there.

Afterward, we hung around the Reflecting Pool for a bit before heading over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial just a short walk from where we were. We made a friend before making out was over there, but sadly, had to leave him behind.

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Before running back to our quickly dwindling meter and checking into our new hotel, we headed toward the memorial where we were met first with the famous Three Soldiers Statue. I actually remember this one from years ago. The three men, meant to represent those fallen soldiers in Vietnam, gaze solemnly at the Memorial Wall containing the names of 58,307 individuals who were killed or declared missing in action.

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The structure itself is so, so beautiful, but the atmosphere is much more different there than in the Lincoln Memorial. We whispered, in reverence of those visitors looking for a friend’s or family member’s name, like the woman crouched down, taking a pencil rubbing of her husband’s name towards the end of the wall.

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When I read up on the memorial, I learned that the designers of the wall intended it to symbolize a convergence of the past and present; a reminder of how the sacrifices of years ago are never forgotten, and to never take our freedoms for granted. Despite not recognizing any of the names on that wall, I think that’s a message we can all relate to and really take with us, even after leaving the beautiful structure behind.

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After walking the length of the Memorial Wall, we decided to grab a popsicle and head to our hotel before venturing back out to another site. We ended up never having time, but I’d really love to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial and FDR Memorial in the same area next time I’m there. I definitely want to get more into how we spent our time in D.C. on the blog, so stay tuned!

Hiking Through Camp Hero

As I mentioned in my post last week, Montauk is one of my favorite places ever. I love that it’s close enough to drive to for the day or for an extended stay - so no matter what time of year, it’s easy to escape the city when you need to.

There are so many little historical sites, restaurants, bars, and fun things to do out in Montauk that I definitely want to tell you all about. Places like Montauk Brewing Co., The Surf Lodge, the Montauk Lighthouse, and Gosman’s are popular destinations for visitors from all over, but what I want to tell you about today is a little off the beaten path.

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Ever watch the Netflix series Stranger Things? If you haven’t you are MISSING OUT, my friend. Basically it has to do with human experimentation, interdimensional travel, a unassuming small town, Dungeons and Dragons, and a spunky group of heroes under the age of 12. It’s fantastic, it’s set in the 80’s, just go watch it.

 Photo [ via ]

Photo [via]

Anyway, not a lot of people know this, but Stranger Things is loosely based off of one of my favorite spooky spots in Montauk, Camp Hero State Park. Located on Montauk Highway right before you enter the parking lot for the lighthouse, the sign for Camp Hero almost sneaks up on you, the driveway hidden in a mess of overgrown brush and trees.

It’s a New York State Park, so certain times of the day/year you’ll have to pay $10 to get in, but luckily I’ve always found a way to avoid that and still get to look around this creepy little outpost.

Unless you drive straight past the entrance to go visit the bluff overlook (which has such a beautiful view of the lighthouse and ocean), you can drive through the park to where the real fun stuff is like the radar tower, old battery dunn, and abandoned buildings that housed soldiers and other facilities when it was a military base in the 1940’s.

There’s a lot of really cool history behind Camp Hero and believe me, I could go on and on about not only its recorded history, but the stories and conspiracy theories that surround the abandoned base in the 1980’s, when many have come out and alleged to be a part of various psychological and time travel experiments called The Montauk Project underground.

If you want to dig a little deeper there, Wikipedia isn’t super helpful so visit this Dan’s Papers article where you’ll get a general overview of why this place is so shrouded in mystery.

My favorite thing to do is head straight for the picnic area past the tower to where there are a group of abandoned barracks, bunkers and various buildings (that may or may not be entrances to secret underground facilities). The majority are boarded up with ‘DO NOT ENTER’ plastered anywhere paint would possibly stick. While my love for the lore behind Camp Hero was definitely creating some internal paranoia about the place, something about walking around those ominously silent grounds made me not want to even try to enter.

I’ve been here several times before, but this was the first time I climbed up behind a few of these buildings and saw that one of them was completely broken down in the back, leaving a very accessible opening to a long, dark interior. The reality was the inside of what seemed like this sort of old armory was just covered in tags and debris - no ghosts, demogorgons, or men in white lab coats looking for any willing (or unwilling) human participants. But you better believe I snapped this picture and hauled ass out of there.

One of my favorite stories from last summer was right around this building below, when my friends and I had stopped by after a beach day at Ditch Plains. As we’re wont to do, we were snooping around for openings in these buildings to see what was inside.  

After trying to peek behind a piece of plywood hanging off the back, a gigantic black bird breaks the silence around us and swoops down, almost skimming the top of our heads. I decided, for my own sanity, that it was just an osprey we pissed off by being in its territory, but nevertheless it was terrifying.

Camp Hero is such an awesome place to go if you want to scare yourself and get lost in all those campfire tales, but also if you want to hop on some of the best and unfrequented hiking trails on the eastern end of Long Island.

When I was there last spring, the park was basically empty and the trees were still a little bare, making for a chilling walk up to the bluff overlook, but gave way to arguably one of the most beautiful view of the lighthouse ever. I hope this inspires you guys to go and explore the unseen parts of some more popular destinations - sometimes the creepy, the unknown and even the macabre make for the best stories.

Favorite Hamptons Pit Stops

Long time no see! I know it’s been a minute, but I won't get into a litany of excuses for this procrastination. I’m glad to be back here writing about the spots I’ve visited so far this summer, so without further ado, enjoy!

Because I live so close, I try to head out to Montauk and the Hamptons as much as I can during the summer. Whether it’s for a weekend or just a day trip, I’ve learned that half the fun really is getting there, and some of my favorite road trip memories have been on Montauk Highway, either speeding down the empty road if we’re lucky, or more often than not, stuck in miles and miles of stop and go traffic. I usually stay and hang out the most in Montauk, but there are a couple of pit stops I love making along the way.

On one of my most recent trips out east, my friend Shelby and I were determined to stop at Wolffer Estate Vineyard for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. I’ve fallen in love with their rosé, but have never actually gotten to see the vineyard. You can imagine the deep, dark hole of despair my heart sunk into when we found out it was closed for a wedding that day. Boo.

 Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Luckily, Wolffer has a small shop and eatery right off Rt. 27 simply called “The Wine Stand”, and it turned out to be exactly what we wanted. As you walk up to their small shop right up against the vines, you pass the Rosé Drive Thru outside - their “adult” take on a lemonade stand. It’s ADORABLE, but you actually can’t buy anything from them out there. Instead, you have racks upon racks of wine, cider, and even their new rosé gin to choose from inside.

After picking up a bottle of their rosé table wine to bring home, we ordered two glasses of their new Dry Rosé Cider and sat out on their patio next to the vineyard. Of course, it was only 1 PM so I ended up leaving with a nasty sunburn, but all in all, so worth it.

It really is a great place to relax and get the whole “Wolffer experience” without going up the road to the main estate itself. Quick tip - summer weddings are BIG at Wolffer, so if you plan on doing a tour or visiting their tasting room, definitely call ahead and check if it’s even open.

If you’re a seafood lover like me, our next stop is something of a pilgrimage: The Lobster Roll in Amagansett. Recognizable by its gigantic “LUNCH” sign nestled atop the tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere, some say it’s where the dish by the same name was pioneered.

The iconic restaurant is a casual eatery with some seating indoors, a covered outdoor area, and an open patio in the back. While some places in the Hamptons and Montauk have become posh - and dare I say pretentious at times - this holds onto the same cozy, no-frills feel that I remember from visits out east when I was a little kid.

There are paper menus, plastic cups, dogs sitting at the patio table next to you, and the smell of the most delicious, fresh local fare wafting from the kitchen behind you. I usually get a lobster roll when I come here, but I decided to change it up and get the fried oyster po'boy which did not disappoint.

To say this place is beloved wouldn’t even really scratch the surface, and it is, in my opinion, a national treasure. Also in case you were wondering, they serve lobster rolls both hot and cold here - the cold is a traditional lobster salad with mayo, veggies and seasonings, and the hot is simply steamed lobster with melted butter drizzled on. Both are incredible, so, you know, go at least twice. Okay I think I’m done fangirling now.

This is more of a no-brainer for any drive through the country, but I really wanted to give farm stands an honorable mention before wrapping up my favorite Hamptons/Montauk pit stops. I love the way they can sneak up on you, and most often have different products every single day - you know, actual farm fresh food (what a concept right???). Aside from great fruits and veggies, I’ve scored some delicious jams, honey, plants and pies depending on the time of year and location. My favorite by far is definitely Bhumi Farms in Amagansett.

 Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Not only is it arguably the most instagram-able stand ever (I mean just LOOK AT IT), but they always have a wide variety of produce and the most gorgeous sunflowers! I’m also a big believer in supporting small businesses, and visiting family farms and farm stands like this is a great way to do that.

The road out to Montauk has so many great things to see whether they’re scenic, historical, or just fun, and I love exploring more every time I drive out there. Which ones did I miss, and which ones are your favorites? Let me know, I’d love to do a Part II!

Meet Me at Serendipity

Ah yes, Serendipity. Nothing says star-crossed love and rom com magic quite like a gigantic goblet of a frozen concoction with 14 different types of chocolate, ready to send you into a diabetic coma. I’m of course talking about the legendary Serendipity 3 on NYC’s Upper East Side and their equally iconic menu staple, the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate.

If you didn’t get my quippy reference in that first line (shame on you), then allow me to explain. Once upon a time (2001), there was a movie that was the epitome of everything most people hate about romantic comedies.

A clandestine meeting of two very unavailable people in a department store at Christmastime sparks an unlikely love story complete with two gorgeous stars du jour, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, implausibly good jobs/nice NYC apartments, obscure literary references, predictable character arcs, a cosmic misunderstanding and - you guessed it - a short resolution and a happy ending. It’s ridiculously cheesy and has every rom com trope you could possibly think of, but you better believe I watch it EVERY time it’s on one of the movie channels…

Anyway, a major plot point centers around the time they spend together towards the beginning of the movie at Serendipity 3, a cafe who’s been pretty well known since its beginning in 1954. Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O were known to frequently visit and enjoy their different extravagant desserts, but it was the 2001 movie that thrust it moreso into popular culture, attracting visitors from everywhere, looking to have the same experience as Jonathan and Sara.

I hadn’t been to Serendipity 3 in a few years, because I’ve only ever gone when people were visiting New York, so I figured it would be the perfect experience to write about here. Because I didn’t have my own clandestine department store meeting with a handsome stranger, I dragged my friend Liz along to help me eat dessert (and split the bill). Such a trooper!

We came for a late lunch around 4:00 and surprisingly only waited around 10 minutes for a table, which is unheard of as far as I’ve seen. I’ve heard of people waiting up to 3 hours for a table there, which, in my opinion, is just dumb.

Fun Fact: Serendipity has also been featured on numerous food and travel shows since 2007 for introducing the Guinness World Record holding "Golden Opulence Sundae" that will only set you back a meager $1000. 

I won’t spend a ton of time on the lunch itself, because honestly it was nothing super crazy. I knew that I couldn’t just drink a milkshake for lunch, so I got their BLT, because most of their other entrees and sandwiches were just a little too pricey to eat two days before payday (money was tight that day, folks).

It was definitely good, but I was there for the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. Oh baby. I’ve only had it once before, so I was excited to rediscover their iconic dessert. After lunch, Liz and I immediately regretted getting our own separate entrees because we barely had room for dessert. But we pulled through…#fortheblog.

Lucy Baker at Serious Eats once described the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate as “the love child of a milkshake and a slushy” and I couldn’t have said it better myself. We paid $11 for a fishbowl sized chalice of chocolate that could’ve easily been split with another person or two, so we were definitely satisfied.

Serendipity 3 is one of those places you might, at first mention, roll your eyes at, but there’s absolutely something to it. The inside is cozy and quirky, filled with vintage tchotchkes and Tiffany lamps that set it apart from the other restaurants in that area of the city that boast a more subdued, sophisticated, or refined kind of look. It's homey.

The wait and the crowds may be unbearable for some, but I would be lying if I said I’d never go back for one of those ridiculous, amazing, gut-busting Frrrozen Hot Chocolates.

When I Die, Bury Me at The Woodlands: Firefly 2017

So, I originally had some other posts scheduled for this week, but I wanted to tell you guys about my trip to Firefly Music Festival while it was all still fresh.

 I'm still in shock that I got THIS close to one of my favorite new artists, MISSIO.

I'm still in shock that I got THIS close to one of my favorite new artists, MISSIO.

 Firefly 2014, a selfie where we pretend not to be too exhausted and sunburnt to stand up - complete with the heavy Instagram filter.

Firefly 2014, a selfie where we pretend not to be too exhausted and sunburnt to stand up - complete with the heavy Instagram filter.

For those of you that know me, you know that I’m pretty unabashedly obsessed with this festival. It happens around the second or third week of June annually, at The Woodlands in Dover, Delaware.

Saying I’ve compared it to Christmas would not be a lie.

It started back in 2011, but I’ve been going every summer since 2014 when the Foo Fighters, Outkast and Jack Johnson headlined. Without getting too mushy, it was definitely a weekend that changed my life and made me fall so much harder in love with live music.

Over the years of trial and error, we learned a thing or two about how (and how not) to camp for 5 days without, you know, dying of starvation or heat. When I’d tell people I was sleeping on the ground in Delaware, in 90 degree weather for five nights, an almost resounding response was, “well it’s nice knowing you.”

But for one reason or another, we keep coming back. Through the many highs and many lows, a group of us decide to pack our cars to the brim with coolers, tents, beer, and each other, and make that four hour drive to escape from reality for just a few days a year. We leave our problems, inhibitions, and judgements at the gate and dive into the little utopia the people at Red Frog Events so lovingly create for us year after year.

If you’ve never been to a multi-day music festival, it might be hard to understand just how far your energy and stamina have to stretch to survive from first to last set (a feat I almost never conquer). Between the lack of sleep, intense heat, and the abundance of ice cold beer, the long weekend often blurs together. So much happens in that span of time, and every year I try my absolute hardest to take it all in.

There’s no way a blog post with a couple of photos could even begin to describe what it was like being there, how amazing the performances were, and how wonderful it is to be there with friends old and new. But I’ll try and indulge that just a little with some of my favorite parts of the festival, to give you guys a little taste of Firefly.

Let me begin this by saying that there was absolutely NO show that I did not enjoy at Firefly - there hardly ever is year to year. Aside from any unfortunate technical difficulties, artists play their hearts out, and being in the crowd with other fans is indescribable. I do, however, want to point out how amazing DREAMERS where at their Friday afternoon set at The Coffee House. 

This stage is definitely one of, if not the smallest, and lets you get really close to the mucisians, which is awesome. There were a few bands who played this stage alone, but it also acts as a secondary stage where a bigger band will play a stripped down or shorter set. I was so happy DREAMERS did two, because there was no was I was making it into the festival by 1:00 for the first one in the ridiculous heat.

Their song "Sweet Disaster" is one I immediately fell in love with when I heard it on AltNation this past year, and I'm so happy I got to hear this band live. 

Bishop Briggs is the next performance that I really wanted to mention. This, like DREAMERS at The Coffee House, was her smaller performance. This set was at my absolute favorite Firefly stage, The Treehouse, which is also much smaller and seems so far away from the rest of the festival, tucked into the surrounding Woodlands.

If you haven't listened to her, DO IT RIGHT NOW. I was lucky enough to see her at Pandora Live a few months ago, and while I didn't think it was possible, she got better. She has the most unbelievable vocal range and such a unique sound - songs you can dance to, bob your head to, or scream along with. I have a feeling she's going to become one of those endearing alt-rock acts that blow up the world like Twenty One Pilots did (and I am so there for it).

An honorable mention I'd like to include before my last "favorite" show, is the Malibu Beach House, right near the Main Stage and the Pavilion. This pop-up bar was actually added last year when Malibu became one of the sponsors, and to my delight, returned once more!

There are two levels and two actual bars in this roped off area, so crowds and lines were really minimal, from what I saw. They served up ice cold, tropical drinks under the cover of a tin roof where you could relax and cool off under a few of their fans, or like, do the limbo with other drunk festival goers if that's your thing.

(It was my thing)

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Now I'm not going to lie - the drinks were insanely expensive. Like, rooftop in NYC expensive. But I kind of threw caution to the wind and enjoyed a few Dark and Stormies on their upper deck that gave a perfect view of the Main Stage. I had split up with my friends at this point, so I got a chance to hang out with a bunch of new people and watch AFI perform from that awesome spot.

I can honestly say I've never been moved by a musical performance the way I had by Sir Sly's set at The Porch stage on Sunday, just a few hours before the festival closed its gates. Like a lot of the smaller bands that played at Firefly this year, I'd only really discovered them a couple months ago, so I was amazed at what an experience their set was.

Like most performers, frontman Landon Jacobs began with a few songs we all knew, a few songs we danced along with, then drastically changed pace. He introduced this next song as a tribute to his mom, who'd recently passed, and one that he'd never played in front of an audience until now.

It was such a beautiful song, and while I tried my best to hold it together, I totally lost it when the crowd erupted in applause midway through, and he choked back tears as well. Without sounding too hippy-ish, it was one of those "power of music" kind of moments that reminded me why people come to these kind of events. I'd like to think it's the feeling the creators had in mind when they first conceptualized Firefly.

I can only guess that his emotional performance paired with the looming sadness of this weekend coming to an end is what really made it memorable. I can't put a word to how it made me feel - it was such an intense mix of emotions - but I know it's something that will stay with me forever.

I barely even scraped the surface of how amazing this weekend was, and I feel like I'd just be wasting my time trying to accurately paint a picture of it for you. I guess all I can really say is that, as long as you go in with an open mind and you're ready to sweat, sleep on the ground, and blow out your ear drums in the name of music, you can't miss it. 

Until next year!

Escape From New York: The High Line

Hey everyone! I know, I know I promised a regular Monday/Thursday schedule - unfortunately I dropped the ball yesterday. I was running around prepping for my trip to Firefly Music Festival this week! I'm excited to post about that when I get back, but without further ado, here's a little look at my first full walk down the High Line on Manhattan's West Side.

Last week, I got tickets to the Whitney Biennial, which has since ended, but you should go watch their video series about the stories behind the exhibit anyway! It was incredible. The Whitney happens to be right at the end of the High Line, so I wanted to walk it from start to finish, about 1.5 miles from west 34th St. to Gansevoort St. in the Meatpacking District.

For those of you not familiar, the High Line, or High Line Park, is an elevated garden built on the now abandoned train tracks that once accommodated the West Side Line. From the elevated path, you're able to walk through some of the city's most beautiful (and expensive) neighborhoods, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, as well as all the new construction being done at the Hudson Yards (which looks amazing, by the way).

Along the way, if you go from the North to South entrance like I did, you'll begin with views of the Hudson River and pass by various art installations nestled within the greenery and the trees as you make your way down the West Side.

 This victrola played sounds of the ocean (I think?) in a little seating area between giant fruit trees!

This victrola played sounds of the ocean (I think?) in a little seating area between giant fruit trees!

 These 'Giant's Shoes' were hidden in the heavily wooded area near the birch trees.

These 'Giant's Shoes' were hidden in the heavily wooded area near the birch trees.

 My friends and I struggled to figure out what these were, but settled on the theory of casted dinosaur prints.

My friends and I struggled to figure out what these were, but settled on the theory of casted dinosaur prints.

 This creepy little dude prompted the, "...so is this...art?" conversation, as he was just kind of chilling at one of the tables near Gansevoort St. By far the funniest and most terrifying piece of art we came upon.

This creepy little dude prompted the, "...so is this...art?" conversation, as he was just kind of chilling at one of the tables near Gansevoort St. By far the funniest and most terrifying piece of art we came upon.

My absolute favorite part was about halfway through; we came to a part where the promenade widened and was turned into an open, grassy field. It was a great place to stop and rest, take a photo, and enjoy looking up at the skyline without being pushed by people in the street or, you know, run over.

One thing that I really loved about the aesthetic of the High Line is that a lot of the flora took on a haphazard look (though I'm sure that was fully intended), and kind of gives me "plants recolonize urban space after apocalypse ravages human life" vibes.

Bleak? Sorry. 

All joking aside, I really, really love it. While I enjoy gardens and anything natural as much as the next person, I've never been a huge fan of super manicured lawns and landscapes. There's something about a gorgeous field of wildflowers, or buttercups popping out from between the cracks in a sidewalk that are more striking than any perfectly pruned shrubbery will ever be.

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Only having seen it once before, I was so happy I decided to walk the entirety of High Line Park. The walkway is definitely a really great place to people watch, and provides a welcome change of scenery if city streets are all you see day in and day out. Its unobstructed city views, various art installations, and surprisingly quiet atmosphere make this truly one of the most unique spaces in New York - or any city for that matter.

While much like Central Park in the sense that tourists and locals seem to coexist in perfect harmony, a refreshing aspect about this park is the lack of gimmicky stands, attractions or lines you might see at New York's other major sites. It simply exists as a tiny little jungle above it all, there for you to sit, relax and escape - even if it's just for a minute.

The Not So Little Italy

To brush up on my knowledge of Little Italy before I embarked on my latest mission, I just thumbed through some travel articles and Youtube videos before writing this to get a good sense of what people’s initial impression of the neighborhood would be. It was a mix of visitors running excitedly for a cannoli at Ferrara’s and people in their 60’s and 70’s wistfully lamenting their former stomping grounds.

It was clear that Little Italy has become a place to simply pass through - sure you could sit at one of the streetside cafes, have and espresso, do as the Italians do, but the atmosphere is more comparable to the pedestrian plaza at Herald Square. A once expansive neighborhood has boiled down to, primarily, Mulberry St. between Spring and Canal, a mere 6 blocks in Lower Manhattan near the 6 train.

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I joined these hordes of people late one Thursday afternoon to take some photos and sit down for some, ahem, “authentic Italian food”. Around Spring and Mulberry is where it all really begins, and where you routinely witness people narrowly escape death as they try to get the perfect shot of the “Welcome to Little Italy” sign spanning the width of the street.

In this tiny area, the competition to get people to eat at your restaurant is fierce, simply because there are dozens to choose from. Seriously. I was walking with a friend down Mulberry, not planning on sitting down anywhere quite yet, and were descended upon by at least five or six different hosts, all toting pretty much the same thing - happy hour, homemade pasta, fresh sauce, yadda yadda.

They were extremely deliberate in their pursuits, and while I’ve gotten used to shooing people away on the street, I can easily see how an out-of-towner could be roped into sitting down for a $28 plate of penne vodka (which is ludicrous).

I think that was the one thing that really ruined the atmosphere for me. I was happy to take in all that Little Italy had, to stroll through souvenir shops and look at the weird things for sale, to stop in for a pastry at one of their many bakeries, and just explore.

But often with looks of desperation in their eyes, the restaurant hosts and store owners started to resemble auctioneers, frantically screaming at anyone to come in the door and give them business not because they had something spectacular to offer, but because they just had something to offer.

Seeing as I’m doing the whole “tourist” thing, I decided to sit down and try the food at the place that gave me their best spiel. The lucky winner was Caffe Napoli - the guy outside was nice and didn’t curse at me in Italian when I hesitated. My friend and I decided to split a plate of gnocchi pomodoro that we were promised was fresh (it wasn’t). Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible at all - in fact the sauce was homemade and pretty delicious. But it was exactly what I feared about the gimmicks and the facades of many of these “authentic” Italian eateries.

For anyone who says Little Italy has lost all its identity as an Italian cultural center, I can tell you from experience that is absolutely not true. A lot of the same establishments still exist, so do the same markets where you can buy fresh mozzarella and olive oil from the counter,  and the same pastry shops that serve up incredible cannolis and Neapolitans.

What’s changed is the major transition from being a simple neighborhood, an alcove where Italian-Americans lived together and functioned as its own little center of commerce within itself, to a cut and dry tourist destination.

If you’re from New York City, or any of the surrounding suburbs like Long Island or New Jersey, Italian food is NOT a commodity. Most of us know where to get a great dish like linguine with clam sauce, and know exactly how to pronounce words like “gnocchi” and “calamari”.

Little Italy, however, is not for these people. It has it’s purpose, and kind of saddens me to say that it’s not the authentic, tradition filled experience you’ll often see in shows, in articles, and in the retellings of people that knew Little Italy in years past. I was met with the cultural dilution that I sort of expected, but was disappointed nonetheless. I can’t really say it wasn’t worth the trip, because it really is an interesting little microcosm just blocks away from SoHo - but my advice to anyone visiting is to adjust your expectations, and appreciate it for what it once was in spite of what it is today.

Wildlife In A Concrete Jungle: The Central Park Zoo

So this post is a little annex off of my trip to Central Park featured in this post - check it out if you haven’t already!

I was originally going to mention the Central Park Zoo with the larger post, but I really enjoyed my experience there and definitely felt that it needed a little spotlight this week. At $12 for general admission, it really isn’t the most expensive thing you can do, specially in the Upper East Side of Manhattan at an attraction that can keep visitors engaged and happy no matter their age.

I’ve only been to the Central Park Zoo one other time, for “Brew at the Zoo” last summer; it was a ridiculously fun event where we paid one price for unlimited beer, but most of the animals were away in their pens for the night and we missed out on basically everything. That being said, I was really excited to finally visit the indoor enclosures, walk the entirety of the zoo, and most importantly, meet my spirit animal: the red pandas.

My first stop was the Tropic Zone just a short walk from the entrance. This ended up being by far my favorite exhibit because, hot and humid as it was inside, it was super immersive. I got the chance to be really up close and personal with some beautiful exotic birds, bats, reptiles and lots of other cool critters.

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From there, I made my way to the absolute most important area which was, as I mentioned earlier, the bamboo lined outdoor enclosure with the elusive, the adorable, the magnificent red panda. There were only two of them, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I stood at the fence for fifteen minutes to get this mediocre shot with a branch in its face. You’re welcome.

The Central Park Zoo is much, much smaller than most other zoos you’ll visit in the US, so it was easy for me to cover most of it in less than two hours, only leaving out the 4-D Theater, which was available at an extra cost. After taking my time at the Tropic Zone, I strolled underneath the vine-covered trellises past the sea lions, the snow monkeys, and finally up to the grizzly bears and the penguins before heading out.

I found that this was a great place to visit on your own, because not unlike a museum, you can move at your own pace and really just take it all in as leisurely or quickly as you want. The Central Park Zoo as part of the Wildlife Conservation Society is committed to the preservation of wildlife, which is a cause that is really near and dear to my heart. It’s refreshing and uplifting to visit a facility like this, where the price of admission goes right back into education about both local and exotic wildlife.

Wandering Through Central Park

One of the most iconic parts of NYC is without a doubt, our own not-so-little green oasis, Central Park. While many may associate Central Park with a few famous locations like the boathouse, Bethesda Terrace, and zoo, the enormous urban landscape actually spans from 59th street until 110st St., covering 843 acres of land. With hundreds of paths winding throughout the park and several crosstown roadways, it’s so easy to get lost in the expanse - and that’s exactly what I set out to do.

I began my journey at Central Park West where I entered near 63rd street and started walking, kind of directionless. I stopped for a minute to eat my lunch on one of the gigantic rocks near the baseball field, which, in my honest opinion, is the absolute best way to people watch in a place that attracts so many.

In the few minutes I was there, I saw countless sunbathers, 5 dogs (very life-affirming), a young girl taking graduation photos on the rock above me, and a man doing tai chi in what looked like a business suit (on his lunch break?). What I love about Central Park is how easily these things can coexist without so much as a second thought - it’s a much needed escape from the busy, crazy, and sometimes frustrating world that surrounds it.

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After lunch, I headed over to the Central Park Zoo, which you can read about here, before continuing my extra long stroll through some of the most well known and beloved parts of the park.

I made my way towards Bethesda Fountain/Terrace by walking up The Mall, a wider, more level walkway where one might say a lot of the “action” happens. There you’ll find, in stereotypical New York fashion, hot dog stands, caricature artists, kitschy vendors, performers and even a $5 massage lady.

I kind of love it but kind of (mostly) hate it. Definitely a great spot for vendors looking to grab the attention of tourists or people strolling by, but it sort of ruins the whole oasis vibe for me...but I digress.

What makes Bethesda Terrace so charming is the large lower level of the terrace called the “arcade”, where you’ll get to see some of the park’s more impressive, breathtaking examples of art and architecture.

Surrounded by arches and hand-painted murals, the second most striking quality of the arcade is how the high ceilings and layout lend itself to the acoustics of the entire area. Even the buskers in the arcade, who were playing “Besame Mucho” like every other sax player in the park that day, seem to draw an engaged, enchanted crowd.

Honestly I could go on and on about the arcade, but I definitely wanted to mention the other spots I managed to hit while blistering my feet and draining my phone battery that day. After walking past the terrace, I did actually go look at the menu of The Loeb Boathouse and entertain the idea of casually grabbing a drink on The Lake. Then I looked at the menu, saw the prices and promptly filled up my water bottle at the public fountain as I backed my proletariat self away. Look guys, I said I was gonna do the tourist thing, and I’m sure it’s a really nice environment to sit down for a meal, but what am I, a Rockefeller?

All jokes aside, a different way to get the whole “boathouse” experience while stretching your dollar a bit further would definitely be renting out one of the rowboats docked right near the restaurant. You get the same views, and at $15/hr, it’s a lot cheaper than I expected.

From there, I was determined to track a few of the famous statues everyone poses with on Instagram but I can never seem to find. Fun fact - most, if not all the major statues, structures and sites in the park are on Google Maps, so it’s easy to map out your time in the park if that’s more your speed.

I bumped into the Hans Christian Anderson statue by sheer happenstance as I was making my way around the conservatory pond, where they have the model sailboats for rent. It’s also how I ended up at the Alice in Wonderland statue which, by the way, had SO many people surrounding it, I basically stood in a line to get this unobstructed of a photo. Not my finest moment, I’ll admit.

On the way back out toward Central Park South, I found the famous Balto statue as well, while parents were trying to explain to their confused child who he was. HAVE WE FORGOTTEN ABOUT BALTO?! Keep him alive in your memory, folks.

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By the time I made it to the southeast corner of the park to see the "Open House" art exhibit, my Health app told me I’d walked close to seven miles that day and frankly, I was pooped. I spent several hours walking around, and didn’t even hit some of the other noteworthy spots like Strawberry Fields, Sheep Meadow, Delacorte Theater and lots of others. While I’d definitely count this as a successful first dive into Central Park, there will be more to come.

If you haven’t read it already, make sure you check out my separate post dedicated to the Central Park Zoo!

THE QUEST FOR A PERFECT SLICE

For my first post, I decided to begin right here in New York City on what seems like the endless quest for the perfect slice of “New York pizza”. It’s not only a popular conversation among visitors of this great city, but often becomes a heated debate between those of us who have our homegrown favorites. Me, I’m a Russ’s pizza girl myself (this tiny Greenpoint spot), but we’ll save local favorites for a different post.

For now, I wanted to dive into what I found to be a dizzying number of supposedly “essential New York slices”. Having my usual spots, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t even been to a couple of these, which made for an interesting experience. I was, in all honesty, skeptical and wanted to see which ones really lived up to their popularity and write-ups in seemingly every NYC food blog.

Prince St. Pizza

After employing the company and appetites of my two friends to help me on this pizza quest, our first stop was the legendary Prince St. Pizza, on none other than Prince St. in SoHo. Upon turning the corner off of Mott St., we were met with an unnervingly large crowd outside of the pizza place. Had I underestimated how popular this place was? Is this like the pizza equivalent of the cronut?

But alas, the agitated mob of onlookers, paparazzi, and weary pizza consumers surrounded - wait for it - KIM KARDASHIAN AND HER TV CREW. Yes. I have never before been to Prince St. Pizza, and the random Monday afternoon that I chose to pop in, I ran into an uber celeb. Bummer.

I can’t really begin to quantify how little my interest in Kim Kardashian paled in comparison to my interest in this supposedly legendary pizza, so I was happy that after five minutes of waiting, the crowds dispersed, and we waited on a line of only two people to get our margherita slices.

I’m happy to report that they were absolutely worth the chaos, and I 100% understand why Kim K. and her posse decided to stop by. While a bit steep at $4.25 for one slice, I was definitely satisfied and would absolutely come back to try some of their other slices.

 

Ray’s Pizza


If you’re like me, you might have seen the movie Elf once or twice (or several hundred times). Among many quintessential New York spots mentioned in the movie, the Famous Original Ray’s Pizza was one of them. In one scene, Santa recalls, “there are, like, thirty Ray’s Pizza’s, but the original is on 11th.”

If you’re not familiar with the almost “urban legend” quality of the story behind Ray’s, I’ll fill you in real quick, without getting too history-nerd on you. The first and only TRUE Ray’s Pizza opened up in 1959 and quickly expanded. Basically one “Ray” after another started opening up their own Ray’s Pizza shops, riding the coattails of Rosolino Mangano, who some credit with building the “Ray” brand to what it is today (you can read more about it here).

We were saddened to learn that the true, original Ray’s Pizza did in fact shut down in 2011, leaving behind litany of imposters citywide in its wake. This, of course, does not stop people from seeking them out, no matter what neighborhood they’re in, to try one of Ray’s Famous Original Slices (RIP). So we took the scientific approach and just picked a random one near Times Square.

I wish I could say that I was as pleasantly surprised as I was with Prince St., but for $3.00 for a plain slice I was underwhelmed. My friend and I walked a few blocks up from the Times Square B stop past the buskers and the sirens and the ever present chaos of Times Square in hopes of finding solace in the warm embrace of a hot slice.

IMG_2165.jpg

Yeah this wasn’t where we were gonna find it.

The cheese itself was dried out like it’d been reheated multiple times throughout the day, and the speciality slices looked even older. Now pizza is pizza...so I ate it. I really wanted to like it, but I’m sad to say that if it’s a “New York slice” you’re looking for....look elsewhere. This is one “must-see” whose heyday has long since passed.

 

Lombardi’s

Proudly in operation for over 100 years, Lombardi’s claim to fame is that they were America’s first pizzeria. Located on Spring St. just around the corner from Prince Street Pizza, this is definitely not your typical NYC slice. Unlike the other spots on this list, this is a sit down restaurant that serves their pizza family style in either 12” or 18” pies.

Like any famous NYC establishment, this was evident and capitalized upon from the moment we walked in and got seated. The first thing I saw at the door were t-shirts for sale with the phrase “I ate at Lombardi’s” on the back and noticeably more families of tourists than at the other pizza places I visited that week. The barrage of merchandise met us at the table as well, conveniently on the menu next to the beer (talk about point of sale marketing).

I split a small margherita pie with one person which was more than enough food for the both of us, and honestly I have nothing bad to say. Of the margherita pizzas I’ve had it was tasty, but not the best I’ve had by far. I'm no food critic, bit it definitely could’ve used more cheese, and would average you $12+ which puts it in a different category than other casual pizza places.

Because of its proximity to Prince St. pizza alone, I’d almost say skip it if you had to choose, but, I’m a sucker for history. So while I probably won’t be jumping to return there anytime soon, I’m happy I got to see why this place is such an iconic NYC dining spot.

 

Artichoke Basille

Ah, Artichoke. You just get me. Their slices are the size of your head and covered in a garlicky, cheesy, artichoke alfredo sauce - what more could your drunk self ask for? (Or sober, not judging). As far as “New York pizza” goes, this one’s a lot different. While they do have a great, margherita slice, what they’re really known for is their previously mentioned “artichoke slice” that’s, in all fairness, inspired a lot of controversy.

Pizza purists will argue that it’s just a “trendy” food like ramen burgers or cronuts and I get it - it’s not for everyone. For all intents and purposes, it’s pizza-shaped but not really pizza. HOWEVER...while you may need to unbutton your jeans to survive the Artichoke experience like I do, it is so, so delicious, that I really couldn’t tell you not to go and try it out. It’s something that you really can’t get outside of their nine NYC locations and that exclusivity is about as “New York” as it gets.

While this trip wasn’t as special or research motivated as the last two since I'm an Artichoke veteran at this point, the fun thing is never knowing what to expect as you turn the corner check your wallet for any lingering dollar bills. Being that it’s busiest late at night, I decided to go after a night out with a friend of mine around 11:30 PM. We got lucky, as it was a Tuesday, so there was no one in line.

With minimal seating and a kitschy “A Christmas Story” leg lamp glowing in the window, it certainly looked the part of a typical NYC pizza place. At this point, I started to regret how much money I’d spent on pizza that week, because delicious as it may be, that last slice was $5.00. The margherita, for reference, wasn’t much more affordable at $4.75, but nonetheless I am #TeamArtichoke and it absolutely deserves its title as a NYC slice.

WELCOME TO THE TOURIST'S GUIDE

Welcome! Not sure how you may have found this, but I’m so glad you did. I wanted to start my ranting and raving on this blog as soon as possible, but I figured it would be a great disservice to readers not start off with this little intro and just say ‘hi’ first.

  Klein Curacao

Klein Curacao

For those of you that may not know me, my name is Stephanie - I’m a New Yorker, recent grad, aspiring creative, writer, travel junkie and photography newbie.  

I’m a big fan of travel blogs and an even bigger fan of traveling, and I’m so excited to be able to create one of my own. For those of you that do know me, you’ll know that like most other things I’ve done in my life, this launch is about two weeks later than expected, so thank you for bearing with me! 

A few years ago, I caught the travel bug in the best way. I was lucky enough to spend close to 5 months living in 3 different countries for a study abroad program with my University, and as you may have guessed, I just couldn’t get enough.  

  The Seine, Paris

The Seine, Paris

  Plaza de España, Seville

Plaza de España, Seville

  Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

At times, I’d catch myself rolling my eyes at people looking like tourists, like they don’t belong, like they weren’t trying as hard as I was to “look like a local”. But something I’ve come to realize, is that it’s a waste of your time. The reality of it is that no matter where you go, you are a tourist.

Read as many blogs as you like, and scroll through Pinterest until your eyes fall out, but I promise you, not one person on the street in Paris will think you’re not just a kid from Pennsylvania with 2 years of college French under your belt.  

  In the words of Marisa Tomei, "yeah...you blend."

In the words of Marisa Tomei, "yeah...you blend."

And that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay. Nothing is more humbling than feeling like a complete alien in a new place.

Nothing is more challenging and rewarding than feeling like you don’t belong but being okay with that, because you are simply lucky enough to be a visitor. I love off the beaten path spots as much as the next traveler, but this is not going to be a blog where I tell you not to go to Times Square; because if you’ve never been to New York, I know you’re gonna go there anyway.  

  Like when I attempted to take photos on a site-seeing bus in London and they all came out like this. You live, and you learn.

Like when I attempted to take photos on a site-seeing bus in London and they all came out like this. You live, and you learn.

What I find is a lack of actual real accounts of the attractions and the sites that seem so popular, some that may even land on all the “Things NOT to Do in (Insert City)”.

Tourist destinations are as such for one reason or another, and I’m determined to climb down off my high horse, go forth with complete objectivity, and fully embrace that moniker, whether it’s in my home city or across the country.  

  Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

I’m fully committed to making myself uncomfortable, taking my camera out when I don’t want to, and putting myself in any situation that I possibly can for your entertainment.

So that whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a novice traveler, you’ll be able to sit down, enjoy my stories, and hopefully find some insight on the places you may want to go next - no matter how big or small.