Long before I was a traveler, I was a nerd. My favorite movie ever is Lord of the Rings, I played Pokémon until I was a senior in high school (no, but seriously) and I’m a lifelong Harry Potter fan.
I’ve not only read all the Harry Potter books in English (obviously), I’ve read quite a few in Spanish and French. And on my 11th birthday I was a smidge disappointed that I didn’t receive an owl.
So you’ll understand why I had to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios while in Florida over the holidays, even if it meant a five-hour round-trip drive.
And considering I’d been promising my baby sister, Bee, a trip to Disney for oh say, the last decade, I decided to kill two birds with one sorcerer’s stone. (Sorry, I had to.)
Even the outside of Harry Potter World was impressive- doesn’t this façade seriously look like London? The London stock brick was spot-on.
And then I spotted our first wizardly sighting of the day- The Night Bus.
Next we moseyed over to King’s Cross. While “living” in London last year I transferred at King’s Cross almost daily, so walking inside made me feel a bit nostalgic for London, a city I miss every single day.
While on Platform 9 3/4 we spotted a not-realistic-at-all Hedwig, and then we boarded the Gryffindor-red Hogwarts Express.
Sadly, the Hogwarts Express ride was a bit cheesy. First off, I totally expected a sweet-filled trolley to roll by. But no chocolate frogs for this girl- only lame sound effects and and the shadow of Death Eaters in the window.
But soon we were we were in Hogsmeade. From the second I saw Hogsmeade I was enchanted by everything from the crooked chimneys to the snowy roofs. Save the Floridian humidity, it was just like the real thing.
Our first beverage in Hogsmeade? Butter beer, of course.
Butter beer was sadly… not very good. First of all, no alcohol (to be expected of course), and secondly it tasted like cloyingly sweet butterscotch.
My knock-off @girleatworld pic. In full disclosure that’s my sister’s hand- as if my nails ever look that good.
Next we beelined for Hogwarts, which houses the best ride in the park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. During the ride we tried not to vomit as we encountered everything from Dumbledore’s office to giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest.
The sorting hat talks while you wait in line. So great.
Before leaving Hogsmeade we stopped at the Three Broomsticks for a pretty mediocre lunch, and then headed for Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley was equally as impressive as Hogsmeade: a labyrinth of dark, narrow alleys, capped with giant, fire-breathing dragon.
Ollivanders Wand Shop, where wands cost $40 plus dollars. I was surprised to see a lot of people buying them- quoi?
The absolute surprise of the day was Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. First of all, the old-fashioned, baby pink interior was adorable, and secondly the ice cream was gourmet. And y’all know I don’t use that word that lightly.
I adored my salted caramel blondie cone, and my sister lapped up her sticky toffee pudding in a cup. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste the other inventive and seemingly delicious flavors: Earl Grey and lavender, clotted cream, chocolate chili and strawberry and peanut butter.
Can Florean Fortescue’s please be a national franchise? I’d be so down.
After we demolished our ice cream cones my sister dragged me out of Harry Potter World to see some parts of Universal Studios. Having seen almost everything, I begrudgingly obliged her.
Despite a few minor let-downs, I loved Harry Potter World. And while I totally should’ve gotten an owl back in the day, seeing the faux Harry Potter World was still pretty wonderful.
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Have you ever visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Would you?
I won’t lie- domestic destinations have never held as much allure to me as international ones. I’ve always saved my dollars for overseas trips- in fact, I’ve visited twice as many countries as I have states! (That would be 38 and 19, for your information. The shame, I know.)
But there’s something about Montana that has always intrigued me. Maybe it’s because I love horseback riding, or because I like Westerns, or because I not-so-secretly dream of living in the country someday. Regardless, when my friend McCall (the friend I went to India with!) invited me to her Montana ranch for Labor Day weekend, I booked a ticket immediately.
Well, it turns out there’s a reason they call Montana Big Sky Country, and there’s also a reason why celebrities are buying up all the land. Montana is gorgeous.
After some obligatory cowboy boot shots at the ranch, we headed to town.
Livingston is as cute of a Wild West town as you can imagine, though it’s a little more yuppie than cowboy with both a yoga studio and sushi restaurant. And thank God- I would never be able to do country life without sushi in a thirty-mile radius.
I came close to buying a cowboy hat but opted out last minute. Because when will I ever wear a cowboy hat again?
Plus, I would’ve had to buy a men’s hat because fun fact- I have a huge head. (I’d like to think this is because of my hair. Or my brain. Or both.)
On the way back home we passed a golden field filled with grazing black cows. Naturally, Eleanor and I hopped out to snag some new profile pictures.
Once we got home we tried to coax Lulu, the shy Bernese mountain dog who melted my heart, out of the car. No cigar, but look at that face!
And then (and this makes me a terrible travel blogger as I didn’t take a single photo), we had a huge barn party with kegs of Blue Moon and local ales, a live country band and even some celebrity guests. (Well, sort of, but I was told Aaron Eckhart’s parents stopped by.)
The next morning we woke up (a bit groggily, I admit) to this view from the kitchen.
For breakfast we had homeground whole wheat pancakes with homemade chokecherry syrup. They were so good we didn’t even bother to pass out plates, and ate them standing in our pajamas.
We then headed outside to play with more dogs. I was kind of obsessed with Pepper, the English setter. Isn’t he handsome?
Cowboy, the aptly named Leonberger, was pretty dapper as well.
And in effort to burn off those pancakes we then went for a mild hike in the woods. As in like 15 minutes. That probably burned off like a teaspoon of chokecherry syrup. Right? No?
After our “hike”, we spent the rest of the afternoon riding four-wheelers through the property and soaking up views like this:
Once we had our fill of big sky views, we high-tailed it back to the cabin for beers and the best peach cobbler I’ve ever tasted.
We capped off the weekend by swinging by a local country bar for dirt-cheap beer and dancing. And for my last night in Montana, Big Sky Country went all out with these cotton candy clouds.
Well thanks Montana, for contributing to my country life fantasies and just for being so goddamn gorgeous. And thanks of course to McCall and her lovely family for having me!
Have you ever visited Montana? Would you want to?
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.)
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.
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.
While I imagine Highline would be better in summer, we still enjoyed our brownies while basking in the weak winter sun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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!
Me backstage after the fashion show was over
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.
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?
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…)
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.
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
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
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
Photo credit: Jaclyn Joyce
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
Like anyone who went to college in Chicago, I have a serious soft spot for Goose Island beer, whether that be an ever-present case of 312 or a chilled, $8 Matilda. So when Goose Island offered me a private tour of their brewery I was jumping up and down like a little kid. Or like a college student who just got free beer. (more…)
As a teenager growing up in suburban Michigan, I dreamed of escaping the endless strip malls and leafy green streets of Midwestern suburbia. So the moment I graduated from high school, I headed straight for the nearest metropolis- Chicago.
And there I lived for four freezing-cold years of wild St. Patrick’s days and lazy Sunday morning brunches. Until I left after graduation to move to Paris.
Coming back a year later, I realize that not much has changed. It’s still so swelteringly hot in the summer that the trash stinks. The brown line still creaks as it rattles along and the 312 beer tastes just as cold and tasty as I remembered. My good friends in the city still cook gourmet food out on their patios and are always sweet enough to invite me.
But a part of me feels guilty for moving away and sacrificing the closeness of my college friendships. It makes me sad to know I’ll miss out on all the little things: the last-minute indie concerts, the Friday night wine tastings, the cheese curd-filled ski trips to Wisconsin. And gradually I fear our closeness will wane, and all those friendships I spent four years forming will cease to be.
The reason I don’t live in Chicago comes down to the fact that I want to be somewhere where everything’s new, where I can really grow. And having grown up in the Midwest, Chicago just doesn’t feel different enough. Everything is familiar to me in Chicago- from the nasal Midwestern accent to the oak trees lining the sidewalks to the way people say “pop” instead of “soda.” And after four years of living there, I know the city like the back of my hand.
But among the familiar, there were new experiences.
Like the cupcake ATM at Sprinkles, which distributes delicious cupcakes 24 hours a day. (THANK GOD that when I lived a few blocks away this did not exist.)
And the $18 view from the top of the John Hancock Center which I had never seen before. (Why is it that when you live in city you never do the touristy stuff?)
And the Mystic Blue dinner cruise I took with my good friend, Victoria, which provided panoramic views of the city and lots of on-board dancing. (Said cruise will forever be remembered as that one time when we crashed an Israeli wedding on a boat. No, seriously.)
But on my return to Chicago, there wasn’t just the new- I also made time to revisit my old favorites as well.
Like brunch at my favorite breakfast place in Lincoln Park, with jars of Nutella on the tables.
Brunch is hands-down the best thing about being back in America.
And wandering Old Town, stopping for my foodie favorites- a.k.a. frozen yogurt at Pinkberry and spices at the fragrant Spice House.
Overall my visit to Chicago made me realize that despite missing so many of my great friends who live in the city, and despite all of the incredible food and architecture the city has to offer, I don’t want to live there again but will always love to visit. Coming back will always remind me of a very happy time in my life, and I’ll (hopefully) always have a friend’s dinner party to crash.
Have you ever gone back to the place you used to live?
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Many thanks to Mystic Blue Cruises for hosting me on their dinner cruise. They in no way insisted that I write a favorable review or that I crash a super-fun Israeli wedding.