NYC is for Besties

NYC is for Besties

New York City- the first stop on my four-month round-the-world adventure, and one of my favorite cities in the world.

This year I ventured to the Big Apple with my best friend, Alyssa, also known affectionately as Lizard. (And it wasn’t our first trip- one year we both worked backstage at New York Fashion Week together!)

The first item of business after six months of not seeing each other? Craft beer. Obviously.
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After lunch we headed back to our cozy room at the Best Western Seaport Inn. Seaport Inn is truly a gem, with fluffy beds and prime views of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is located in the Seaport neighborhood, a pocket of charm and calm in the financial district with a beautiful waterfront and quaint brick streets.

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Our second order of business? Wandering. From roaming under red lanterns in Chinatown to pretend-shopping for my dream brownstone in the Meatpacking District to stopping for coffees the size of my head at Angélique, NYC was lovely as usual.

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I’ve noticed my favorite American cities are the ones geographically confined to an island or peninsula like NYC or San Francisco. The space limitation makes cities walkable and leads to neighborhoods being jam-packed with cafés, restaurants and bars. (Kind of like Europe, ha.)

Also we made a few stops at my favorite shops on Bleeker: Bond, Alexis Bittar, MAC (where I tried on Ruby Woo, MAC’s most dramatic red lipstick of course).

And I noticed my favorite French shops popping up all of NYC: Zadig & Voltaire, ASH, Comptoir des Cotonniers. (I use favorite loosely- I have never bought anything from any of those stores. I would like to though!)

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Chelsea Market

The next day we headed to Chelsea Market per the recommendation of C’est Christine. Um, guys, the next time you’re in NYC, please go there.

Chelsea Market is an indoor market with excellent food, trendy clothes and vintage jewelry- all of the good things in life, right? I resisted buying some vintage 1970s gold and onyx jewelry but it was a very close call. (My backpacker budget doesn’t allow for many $70 pairs of earrings, sadly.) IMG_5408

And because I couldn’t decide between green curry pie and a bánh mì, I had Italian. (Even though I was days away from heading to Venice. Sue me.)

At Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina Lizard and I ordered pasta e fagiole, a.k.a. butter-soft beans with homemade pasta, as well as a side of roasted brussels sprouts. Because we like to pretend to be healthy.

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Highline Park

After lunch we stretched our legs at Highline Park, a railroad turned park à la one of my favorite spots in Paris, the Promenade plantée.

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While I imagine Highline would be better in summer, we still enjoyed our brownies while basking in the weak winter sun. IMG_5364   IMG_5431

And then? We were off to Europe!

Seaport Inn offered me a night’s stay in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are my own.

Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

I’ve been back from Asia for a month now, living at my parent’s house in Michigan.

I am by far the happiest I’ve ever been at home. Readjusting last time after a long spell abroad was more difficult- I felt listless, bored and irritated with the return of bad habits like snacking and scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

But this year is different. I’m even enjoying winter this year despite the polar vortex‘s best efforts.

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This stems from something I learned while studying yoga in Bali- in order to survive a grueling, ninety-minute yoga session, it’s best to be present.

Don’t focus on the clock; suffer through discomfort to achieve your personal best. Don’t compare yourself to others; strive to be present, just you, on your mat.

This mindful little mantra of “staying present” not only applies well to yoga, but also to life in general.

I remember reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea of happiness when I was 16 in her memoir Eat Pray Love. She wrote of “diligent joy”, or the idea that happiness is something you fight for every day.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” she wrote.

Seven years later, I’ve finally realized this is true. And in addition to striving for “diligent joy”, I also strive to practice gratitude, another lesson I learned on my yoga retreat in Bali.

Not in the mood for class?

Be grateful to be practicing yoga in Bali with some of the world’s best instructors.

Be grateful for the crickets that chirp, the soft rain that falls down on the thatched roof, for the lush greenery.

Be so, so grateful that you have been given this opportunity to be here.

And along with a great tan, I’ve tried to take that lesson of practicing gratitude home with me. Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR

Be grateful for the snow. Be grateful to be sitting fireside with a glass of pinot noir and an addictive TV show.

Be grateful for a winter walk with a friend, watching my little dog trip over snow-banks.

Be grateful for Starbucks dates with my sweet little sister.

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And in accordance with my new year’s resolutions I’m making an effort to see my friends more. As my fellow Instagram addicts may know I spent last weekend in Chicago in a flurry of dinner parties, craft beer at the bar and catching up with friends. It was wonderful.

I’ll write about this soon, but I’ve realized my priorities have changed; I now know I need a community, a group of friends, people who I know and love and care about.

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Chicago Beer

Along with many other lessons, Asia taught me long-term nomadic life is not for me.

I guess what it all boils down to is this; I’m really happy and I’d like to stay that way.

Back from Asia… And Home for the Holidays!

Back from Asia… And Home for the Holidays!

Hey! I’m not sure if you saw on Facebook and Twitter but I am home! (Once I suffered a 30+ hour flight in which Delta shoved me in the corner with a crying infant and a seat that didn’t recline. Love.)

Being home is so nice. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy to be home. Ever. (more…)

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Reunited with my little sis and soaking in Christmas cheer at the Fox Theatre in Detroit! 

After two months of solo travel all I want is quality time with my family and friends. For the past few days I’ve been pestering my siblings with questions like, “So, who wants to go to see The Hunger Games?” or “Anyone need a ride to Best Buy?”

I think a part of me was lonely in Asia; while I was constantly surrounded by other travelers, I missed being around people I actually know, have known and will know. If that makes any sense.

Two tiny complaints- I have the worst jet lag of my life and have I mentioned how COLD Michigan is? The winter chill here is truly bitter. Which is why I have barely left the house, content to lounge around by the fire and watch the snow fall, curled up with my laptop.

The only time I leave the house is to do hot yoga- thankfully my yoga habit has continued on from my retreat in Bali! I’m kind of obsessed now.

Speaking of Bali, I have a post about all that Asia meant to me in the works. Now that I’ve left I feel it’s easier to reflect on the trip, though all of the cliched words do come to mind: life-changing, incredible and unforgettable.

In other news I got a new, much shorter haircut. I kind of dig it, what do you think?

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And professionally I’m doing quite well. My site is up to more than 9,000 unique monthly views and more than 26,000 monthly page views! How did that happen?

Which may have to do with the fact that last week I was featured on Adventurous Kate as one of the nine standout blogs of 2013- which truly meant the world to me.

And in another stroke of great news I won the Angie Away holiday giveaway! (And I never win anything, I swear!) My new Tieks are already in the mail and I can’t wait to see the rest of the goodies.

And I won another giveaway too! Candace Rardon, one of my favorite bloggers, sent me one of her incredible watercolor postcards because I won her December giveaway… isn’t it gorgeous?

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So, what’s up next?

Well, I’m not really sure. I definitely want to be home for at least a month. And then I have several options… but any suggestions on travel destinations in 2014 would be very welcome!

And over the holidays I’ll be taking a break from posting- happy holidays everyone!

That One Time I Worked Backstage at New York Fashion Week

That One Time I Worked Backstage at New York Fashion Week

Want to work backstage at New York Fashion Week? Read on to hear how I found a gig at the event!

As I was finishing up my senior year of college in Chicago, I was juggling two internships, a double-major course load and a part-time job as a cater-waiter and event photographer. Needless to say, I was exhausted from 14-hour days and seriously needed a break from cold-weather drudgery.

So when my best friend asked me if I wanted to accompany her to New York City to work backstage at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, I didn’t think twice. I quickly booked a ticket, called my internship bosses to say I wouldn’t be coming in next week and stopped by J.Crew to buy black leggings. Done.

When I dutifully arrived at Lincoln Center at 2 p.m. for the Farah Angsana show, I had no idea what to expect. But it was outside Lincoln Center I got my first glimpse of the fashion week models- all tall, all young, and some so horrifically thin that I had to look away.

Backstage before the show was hectic- along with about 20 other volunteer dressers, we were quickly briefed on how to zip, unzip and steam the clothes and how to most efficiently dress the models. Then we were each assigned a look and were told to stand by our posts at all times.

I soon found out you really do strip couture off of half-naked teenage models during the show. Though I’m not super into fashion, I loved working backstage- it was fast-paced, exciting and completely different to anything I’d ever experienced before.

The show I helped with!

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Because we had found such cheap holidays and New York is one of my favorite cities, we stayed put for a few days after the fashion show in order to soak up as much of the Big Apple as possible. From checking out the impeccably curated Islamic Art Collection at the Met to drooling over arugula and ham thin-crust pizza at Numero 28, New York didn’t disappoint.

Also if you’re in New York I’d highly recommend Momofuku Milk Bar. Their menu is so much fun and a throwback to an American childhood: I loved their cereal milk soft serve ice cream, light pink b’day truffles, compost cookie and pretzel milk-shake. And yes, I tried all of that in one visit.

A few things to note about working backstage at a fashion show:

My friend found the jobs because of a post seeking dressers one of her high school classmates put up on Facebook. Fashion shows always need volunteers so if you’d like to participate here’s a how-to guide on how to work as a dresser.

As far as I know, all volunteering opportunities are unpaid. If you want to work for one of the more sought-after designers, previous volunteer work at shows is important.

Backstage rules:

1. Follow the dress code. Wear all black and comfortable shoes (I wore black flats). Stay away from heavy make-up or jewelry. For girls make sure to have your hair up, and for guys make sure to be clean-shaven.

2. Don’t use your phone during the show. Have your phone on silent in your bag.

3. Don’t talk or stand in the way of the designer, as he or she will be very busy making final check-ins on how each look is styled before the fashion show.

4. Be professional, quiet and helpful- and most importantly, have fun!

Have you ever worked backstage at New York Fashion Week? Would you want to?

Falling in Love with Southern California

Falling in Love with Southern California

After our fast-paced weekend in LA, we headed south to chilled out Chula Vista for a bit of sun and sand. Instead of staying with a friend, we found a place to stay with a Southern California native and lifeguard through Couchsurfing.

One of my favorite parts of Couchsurfing is that it gives you the chance to explore places you would never have seen otherwise. And it turns out bunking up with a lifeguard host means lots and lots of beach time!  (more…)

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On our first morning in Chula Vista our host took us to Imperial Beach, a sandy little community which he described as “the last small beach town in California.”

I almost don’t want to write about it here as it was so marvelously unspoiled, with uncrowded beaches, ocean piers and lots of thriving local businesses like ice cream parlors and coffee houses. We also noticed everyone in town seemed to know each other- as we walked from shop to shop our host cracked jokes with almost all the shopkeepers and other customers.

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But after a physically taxing weekend in LA, I’m sorry to say that all Victoria and I wanted to do was sleep. So while our host was lifeguarding we laid down on the sand and slumbered away three hours. Due to my naïve belief that I’m tan enough not to wear sunscreen, I acquired an impressive fire hydrant red tan that later made it painful to shower. Good one, Ash.

After our beach nap, our host gave us a tour of his plush lifeguarding office, complete with a vintage surfboard museum and choice views from the dispatch.

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Peckish from our long nap, we headed to In-N-Out Burger for lunch, also known as the best fast food ever. On the way to the restaurant our host filled us in about the secret menu, which I had no idea existed. Ever heard of the 100×100? (Sadly, this monstrosity no longer exists.)

While Victoria and I foolishly ordered our burgers plain, we drooled in envy over our host’s animal style burger and fries.

“If I’m going to order fast food, I’m going to go all out,” said our host. Amen to that.

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Animal-style fries= cholesterol heaven

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Our non-animal style burgers

Next we powered through a quick tour of downtown San Diego, a quiet, leafy city that seemed much, much more relaxed than LA. Guess which one I liked better?

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Though San Diego seemed nice enough, in the end it was the sleepy beach towns further south that held the magic for me. Imperial Beach and Chula Vista seemed like peaceful and sunshine-laden places to settle down- and plus, the proximity to Mexico would be incredible.

But even better times were soon to come, on our day (and night) trip down to Mexico…

Finding Love for Los Angeles

Finding Love for Los Angeles

To be honest, Los Angeles isn’t my favorite city. The lack of history, the strip malls, the traffic- oh dear god, the traffic- combine themselves in a way I find to be overwhelming. But on this visit to the city of angels I had an absolutely amazing time due in no small part to the company: my travel buddy Victoria, as well as our host, Ben, one of my best friends from high school.

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While Los Angeles may not be my favorite city, here are some moments from the weekend that I absolutely loved.

Waking up to Mexican Food

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Like any self-respecting gringa, I love me some TexMex breakfast food: from breakfast burritos to chilaquiles to huevos rancheros. Though I was on a strict pre-Asia spending fast, I made room in my budget for a daily Mexican brunch, preferably involving guacamole.

Feeling like a Local in Silver Lake

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Ben, our host for the weekend, hangs up his hat in Silver Lake, a young and trendy neighborhood just east of Hollywood. From stumbling upon street art murals to checking out bean-to-cup coffee shops, I really enjoyed feeling like a local in this up-and-coming neighborhood.

Nibbling on Bread and Cheese at a Weekly Wine Tasting

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Photo credit: Jaclyn Joyce

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As many long-time readers know, there are few things that bring me more joy than picnics: the combination of sunshine, friends, wine and fresh bread just makes my heart sing. So I loved the local wine tasting we attended atop Barnsdall Park. Los Angeles Attractions Los Angeles Attractions One downside- Victoria and I were crying silent tears when we forked over $28 for a loaf of bread, round of cheese and sausage- in France we used to buy similar picnics for about 5 euros. (And why in god’s name would a loaf of bread ever need to cost $8?)

Here is the link to the wine tasting if you’d like to attend- it’s $25 and held every Friday!

Sunning on top of the Hollywood Tower

On Saturday one of Ben’s friends in town invited us over for a day of strawberries and sunbathing at the Hollywood Tower (also known as the hotel that inspired Disneyland’s Tower of Terror.) Once we had our fill of the pool, we rode a decidedly haunted elevator to the top of the Hollywood Tower where we were the only rooftop guests! We happily frittered away the afternoon snapping  pictures of the Hollywood sign and listening to Sublime.

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And when we spotted a huge chessboard with a few missing pieces, we subbed in for the bishop and knights and played human chess à la Harry Potter. My friends are, needless to say, awesome.

Savoring the Meal of my Life in Koreatown

Being the not-so-closet foodie that I am, my only request for our L.A. weekend was dinner in Koreatown. For our epic meal we settled on Soowon Galbi KBBQ Restaurant, which must have set a yelp record with 4.5 stars out of more than 1,200 reviews.

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We started off with grilled skirt steak as well as a myriad of side dishes, followed by the best, crispiest riced bi bim bop I’ve ever had in my life.

It was such a fun dining experience- I loved cooking our own meat the table! And even better? The meal was less than $25 a person including beer and tip.

Here’s the contact info if you want to check it out yourself. yelp // website

Spotting my Favorite Stars in Hollywood

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The Harry Potter cast’s handprints at the Chinese theater!

Okay, honestly I didn’t really enjoy this activity because I hate crowds and tourist sites but it was something “we had to do.” But I did see some of my favorite stars on the boulevard, like Vivien Leigh, James Franco and Scarlett Johansson.

People-watching at Venice Beach

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Venice Beach is a photographer’s dream- how can one boardwalk pack in so much crazy? On our 30-minute promenade we witnessed a group of fanatical street preachers as well as a topless parade protesting the fact that women legally have to cover their breasts in public. Oh, Venice. Los Angeles Attractions

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Los Angeles Attractions

Overall it was an absolutely incredible weekend- thanks so much to Ben for having us and showing us such a great time!

Are you a fan of LA? What do you like to do when you’re there?