A Quick but Wonderful Trip to NYC + My Favorite Boutique Hotel Ever

A Quick but Wonderful Trip to NYC + My Favorite Boutique Hotel Ever

I don’t know about you guys, but for me a comfy bed is a must after a long international flight.

Which is why I was so glad that when Amanda, Jessica and I landed in New York, we had a bed at The Library Hotel waiting for us.

I had read about The Library Hotel a while back on Young Adventuress, and flagged it for a later stay in NYC. As an avid reader, I loved the idea of a hotel made for bookworms.

The Library Hotel is quite literally a library- each floor represents one of the ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and each room represents a different subsect of that category. Just look at the lobby!

Library Hotel NYC

We stayed on the Math and Science floor in the Astronomy suite. Astronomy was present in every detail of the room: from the tiny statue of Galileo to the shelves full of books about journeys into space.

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Astronomy aside, the room was absolutely dreamy- a spacious corner suite with a huge bathroom and softest bed ever.

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Another perk at the Library Hotel is you can rent DVDs for free. So when we checked in we grabbed Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, inspired of course by our trip to Jordan.

Despite our best intentions, we could barely get through ten minutes of Indiana Jones before falling fast asleep.

When we finally awoke, we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of pain au chocolat and lattes- a welcomed change from the hummus and labneh we’d eaten every morning in Jordan.

Lattes in had, we went upstairs to the rooftop to enjoy early morning in NYC and snap some photos.

Courtesy of Curiosity Travels

Courtesy of Curiosity Travels

Next, we headed to nearby Ess-a-Bagel for bagels. I go to Ess-a-Bagel every time I’m in New York because it’s SO. GOOD. We waited in line for 45 minutes (no joke), and by the time I received my bagel my hands were shaking.

But the wait was well worth it- I loved my a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, onions, capers, cucumbers and piles of smoked salmon. Bliss.

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Bellies full, we then walked over to Grand Central Station, where I attempted (and failed) to make a time-lapse video. Mainly we just stared up at the gilded ceiling.

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Then it was time to say goodbye to my favorite travel buddies- so sad! They headed off to Brooklyn but I returned to my king-sized bed at the Library Hotel before flying back to Denver.

Although our stay in NYC was short it was also wonderful. And you can guess which boutique hotel I’ll be staying at upon my return.

Are you a bookworm too? Would you like to stay at the Library Hotel?

I received a complimentary stay at the Library Hotel as part of their Writers-in-Residence program. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Nerding Out at Harry Potter World

Nerding Out at Harry Potter World

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.)

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Even the outside of Harry Potter World was impressive- doesn’t this façade seriously look like London? The London stock brick was spot-on. Harry Potter World

And then I spotted our first wizardly sighting of the day- The Night Bus. Harry Potter World

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.

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World

While on Platform 9 3/4 we spotted a not-realistic-at-all Hedwig, and then we boarded the Gryffindor-red Hogwarts Express.

Harry Potter World

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.

Harry Potter World
Harry Potter World Harry Potter World

Our first beverage in Hogsmeade? Butter beer, of course. Harry Potter World

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.

Harry Potter World

My knock-off @girleatworld pic. In full disclosure that’s my sister’s hand- as if my nails ever look that good.

Harry Potter World

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. Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World  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.

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World Harry Potter World

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. Harry Potter World
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.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Have you ever visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Would you?

A Weekend on a Montana Ranch: Experiencing Big Sky Country Firsthand

A Weekend on a Montana Ranch: Experiencing Big Sky Country Firsthand

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.

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After some obligatory cowboy boot shots at the ranch, we headed to town.

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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.

Montana_Ranch_Livingston_Downtown

Montana_Ranch_Livingston

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.)

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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.

Montana

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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!

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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.

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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.

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We then headed outside to play with more dogs. I was kind of obsessed with Pepper, the English setter. Isn’t he handsome?

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Cowboy, the aptly named Leonberger, was pretty dapper as well. Montana_Ranch_Leonberger

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? Montana2

After our “hike”, we spent the rest of the afternoon riding four-wheelers through the property and soaking up views like this: Montana_Ranch_Clouds

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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.

Montana_Ranch_Cobbler Montana_Ranch_Blue_Moon

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.

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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?

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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Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR1

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.

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!

Work Backstage New York Fashion Week  Me backstage after the fashion show was over

Because 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…)

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.

Los Angeles Attractions

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

Los Angeles Attractions

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

Los Angeles Attractions

Los Angeles Attractions Los Angeles Attractions

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

Los Angeles Attractions

Photo credit: Jaclyn Joyce

Los Angeles Attractions

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

Los Angeles Attractions

Los Angeles Attractions

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

Los Angeles Attractions

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

Los Angeles Attractions

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?