I loved being away on my last trip, but traveling wears me out. Not sleeping in my own bed, being uncomfortable on buses and trains, and walking five to 15 miles a day drains me of energy. By the time I arrived in Dresden, I was müde. Luckily, I was staying at luxurious Swissôtel where […]
A stuffed animal. A beanie baby. A knockoff brand beanie baby. A blanket. A snowglobe. A middle school research paper. A necklace. Matching earrings. Flannel sheets. Slippers. Pajamas. Proof of an obsession, listed out in just thirty seconds. I’m sure there was more. What did all of these precious collectibles in the nineties share in common? They were penguin-themed, of course.
I could go on and on about the benefits of solo travel, but the truth is, sometimes it gets lonely – and it did for me in a few cities on this last trip. Something I recommend to people traveling solo for the first time is to sign up for a tour. As one of my tour guides once told me, when the guide asks everyone where they are from, it gives people on the tour permission to then talk to each other: “Where in Bulgaria are you from?” “I have an aunt and uncle in Indianapolis – is that nearby?” “I’ve always wanted to go to Luxembourg,” – even if you legitimately have no context for the place they mentioned. I knew I could fend for myself in the smaller cities, but I wanted to explore the bar scene with others when in Prague, and signed up for an Urban Adventures’ Beer & Czech Tapas Tour.
In March, I continued my whirlwind trip of 10 cities in six weeks, and accidentally added one more city to that list. March came in like a few days in magical, mythical Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, where I met a person whose profession is “fire eater”, and went out in the only Starbucks within a half hour in a drizzling, ghost-town-in-the-winter on the Jersey Shore. That makes it seem like I’m not happy to be home – this is not the case. It’s awesome sleeping in my own bed, having access to all of my possessions that are not packed away in my sister’s basement, and not having to pay for all of my meals. Well, and having phone service all of the time, being in the same time zone as most of my friends, and being able to catch up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. And, of course, being with my family and the pup, and reuniting with friends.
The majority of the people I know who have been to the Czech Republic (or Czechia) have only been to Prague. I fell deeply in love with Prague, in fact, I started to look for jobs and apartments there after two days, but I also found a lot I loved in the other Czech town I visited, Cesky Krumlov. Cesky Krumlov is a medieval town designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It might just be the most charming place I’ve ever been and is one of the smallest towns I’ve explored. I joked to my family that it was the size of our neighborhood at home. In this most charming town I’ve ever been, I stayed in the most charming hotel I could find: Hotel Ruze.
Renting an apartment instead of a hotel is a great way to experience a destination as more of a local than as a tourist. Many travelers these days turn to Airbnb, but I recently discovered a company I’m referring to as a localized Airbnb, Ambiente Apartments in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Last February, I became involved with a company called Visit.org, a platform that connects travelers with local experiences that give back to the communities they are visiting. My role with Visit.org is to be an ambassador, which means that when I travel, I make time to participate in these experiences myself. I visit the organizations on the platform to take photos and video, tell their stories, and determine if the experience is still something we want to promote on the website. When I was in South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit two of these organizations, which showed me another side to Cape Town from what I had seen in the center city. Both organizations took me to Kyayelitsha, a township founded in 1985, during the times of apartheid, when black South Africans were forcefully relocated to black neighborhoods.
By the time I arrived in Budapest, I was about a third of the way through my trip. In a little over two weeks, I’d stayed in three Airbnbs in South Africa, and two Airbnbs and one hotel in England. I’d only had my own place for two of those nights. I had a blast with my friends, but I was also looking forward to being by myself. While in Budapest, I stayed at St. George Residence All Suite Hotel Deluxe, a luxury hotel on the Buda side of the Danube River.
Visiting Paris has been a huge dream of mine since 1994, when I first started pretending I was in the art scene. I wore a red French beret and a black turtleneck with a music note pin on my chest pretty much every day. I imagined taking the train to Giverny to see Monet’s Gardens in person, visiting the Picasso Museum, and seeing Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Giverny was closed for the season until the weekend after I left Paris and the Musée Picasso had a limited collection while they prepared for a special exhibit, but Mona Lisa? She was there. And I was going to see her.
As I wrote in my January recap, I waited a while for my 2017 to begin. After returning from India right before Thanksgiving and spending all of December and January either in New Jersey or New York, I was ready to take off – and take off I did. In February, I landed on a new (to me) continent, added five more countries to my list, and, for the first time, visited a European city and country I’d been before.
When I first traveled to London, to visit a friend from work on a short-term assignment abroad, it was my first time traveling outside of North America in years. At that point, I didn’t know how to initiate trips, who to travel with, or that I was allowed to spend my hard-earned money for something other than rent. The U.K. was my second time in Europe, those many years ago. And earlier this month, London was the first European city that I revisited.
I was pretty excited to travel to South Africa. Not only would it be my first time on the continent of Africa, the farthest south I’d ever been, and an escape from an east-coast winter – I was excited to eat. I’d heard about the food scene in Cape Town, with fellow travelers recommending specific restaurants to make reservations for weeks or months in advance. My friends and I neglected to do this, but we still found many a gem. Like Brooklyn, Cape Town is full of creative, entrepreneurial people doing their own thing – from gourmet mayonnaise to gin ice cream, so you have your pick of unique spots. Below are the best meals that I ate, a list which by no means encompasses the best meals in South Africa, but it’s a good starting point:
I didn’t expect to see a pair of monks playing music on an iPhone, but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined the music would be a song from One Direction, of all possible options. Michael Buble, maybe; Enya, of course; but One Direction? Then again, I’d never imagined myself in Myanmar to begin with, so wasn’t this just part of the experience of being continuously and wonderfully surprised by everything around me?
Happy Valentine’s Day! Wherever you are in the world today, I hope you find signs of love. It’s not always out there in the open, but here are some hearts I’ve found all over the world:
I’ve been waiting a whole month for 2017 to begin. Of course, it’s *officially* begun – I did watch the ball drop while stuffing my face with buffalo chicken bread, but I also haven’t been outside of NJ and NYC since before Thanksgiving. There’s definitely something to be said for being home, drinking hot coffee, and sitting by the woodstove with a puppy in my lap, but I long for adventure. Luckily, adventure awaits me on Saturday for almost six straight weeks. If you’re interested in following along in real time, follow me on Instagram as I’ll be posting a few pictures a day and using Instagram stories to share my travels with you all.