Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream: Skiing in Switzerland

Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream: Skiing in Switzerland

I haven’t mentioned this much on the blog, but I’m a die-hard ski bum. As in, my parents taught me to ski as a toddler, I raced GS and slalom in high school and I used to be on the hill five to six days a week. Not so bad for a Michigan girl, huh?

And ever since my first Warren Miller movie at the age of six I’ve dreamed of skiing the chalet-dotted mountains of Switzerland. IMG_0957

Which is why when my family friend Doreta invited me to her Swiss ski chalet for the weekend I spared no expense. Travel accounts be damned, I was going to finally ski Switzerland.

My family friend, Doreta, is someone I have admired my entire life- an elegant German woman who married an American and divides her life between the U.S., Italy and Switzerland. Have I mentioned she speaks five languages?

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Upon seeing her chalet in Gstaad for the first time I was already in love- a cozy mountain farmhouse situated next to the Swiss dairy farmer, with views of the Alps from every window.

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On my first morning Doreta prepared me a hearty pre-ski breakfast: earthy German black bread, a soft-boiled egg, wheat bread with French honey and butter and black coffee with cream.

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Breakfast is already one of my favorite things in the world- there’s truly nothing I love more than to waking up to toast. But nutty German black bread? I was a goner. But I guess with a surname like Fleckenstein it’s in my blood.

Once Doreta’s son outfitted me with complimentary ski gear (Danke!), we headed to the hill. While we rode the gondolas Doreta spoke German to everyone while I sat and cursed myself for not knowing a word of it.

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Doreta also taught me a neat trick- to carry snacks on the mountain. In my pockets I kept one ziploc of gruyère and one of chocolate, which helped us stay out longer as well as save money on lunch. Genius!

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But despite all the fun I was having, on my first day I was almost in tears. My boots were too big (racing boots are much tighter than recreational ski boots) and I felt so out of practice. It had been almost three years!

But I couldn’t be too upset as after a full day on the hill I got to relish one of my other favorite rituals- après-ski. Because is there anything better than sitting in a toasty living room after a cold day on the slopes, cheeks flushed with a glass of wine, chatting with friends? Well, no, in my opinion.

On my last day in Gstaad Doreta took me for a little spin around town. I loved seeing the little villages, where clothes hang between 18th century chalets. Many chalets had inscriptions on the façade, with the last name of the family, a prayer in German and a date of construction- I saw some that dated back to 1757!

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And between the beautiful blue skies, no-lines skiing and lovely company, I couldn’t have had a better time finally experiencing the Swiss Alps.

Are you a skier? Would you ever want to ski Switzerland?

It’s my 24th Birthday!

It’s my 24th Birthday!

Hey guys! Today I’m 24. Which officially means I’m in my mid-twenties. Is it weird I’m mostly totally okay with that?

First off, I want to thank each and everyone one of you who responded to my twenty-something crisis post. I teared up reading a few of the comments- seriously, you guys are so awesome for sharing your sympathy and wise advice.

Okay, and back to the birthday. My family threw me the loveliest birthday at my lake house, complete with the same strawberry cake I’ve had every year since I was 16. And while I did receive some lovely gifts (a new Swarovski necklace!), the real gift was being home: riding old-fashioned bikes with my brother, sipping champagne with my grandmother, hearing my grandpa’s World War II stories over coffee. I adore my family. ash ash1

Also, I do have some exciting plans in the works. While I don’t want to prematurely announce them, I’m 95% sure of where I’m moving in September- but my lips are sealed until I sign the lease!

Until then, I will be right here. IMG_1981

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And I’m so excited to continue blogging about my world trip- I still have Switzerland, England, Wales, Spain, France, India, Thailand, Malaysia AND Vietnam to cover! There’s so much I can’t wait to share.

And long-time readers may remember that last year I posted a list of 23 things I wanted to accomplish in my 23rd year. Here’s how I did!

COMPLETED: (8/23)

Learn how to scuba-dive, get in the best shape of my life, learn how to cook Asian food, get 3 freelance articles published, fight muay thai, make a conscious effort to keep up my French and Spanish, try Stand Up Paddleboarding, pay off all my debt

WILL COMPLETE (I SWEAR): (10/23)

Move to a new city after the Asia trip, learn how to drive manually, get a job that I love, try surfing again, go to a music festival, volunteer for a great cause, attend a travel blogging or media conference, take a graphic design course, throw a surprise birthday party, run a 5K Color Run

HALF-COMPLETED/DEBATABLE: (5/23)

1. Learn how to use my camera in manual, learn how to shoot in RAW and edit with Lightroom.

I learned how to shoot in manual and use Lightroom, but still don’t know much about RAW. Oops.

2. Buy a new wardrobe.

Um, do a few ASOS dresses and two pairs of jeans count?

3. Buy a custom-design for my site.

Well, I got a new theme. But money was way too tight for a $5,000 redesign.

4. Learn how to do liquid eyeliner like a French girl (yup, still failing after a year).

Yeah. I think I’ve got this one but I’d have to run it by my French friends.

5. Keep blogging!

Well I took an intentional three-month break, but I fully intend to blog regularly now.

. . . . . . . . . .

And for next year? Here are seven goals. (Apparently 23 was far too ambitious!)

1. Make a conscious effort to be happy and make friends wherever I move this year.

2. Post at least one recipe a month on this blog. I miss cooking, especially cooking French food!

3. Stay in shape. I’d love to run my first 5K and get into pilates.

4. Keep up my French and Spanish. Y’all know how much I love languages.

5. Write handwritten thank you cards. It’s just classy.

6. Get better at dancing. Perhaps belly-dancing or salsa?

7. Try a wreck dive. Now that I’m an Advanced Open Water diver I’d love to do this.

. . . . . . . . . .

So, do you set goals at your birthday? Or is it just me?

Murano: The Perfect Daytrip from Venice

Murano: The Perfect Daytrip from Venice

While I spent majority of my time in Venice lazily wandering the canals, one day the group and I mustered up the energy to lazily wander the canals of another island- Murano.

Murano is famed for its glass-making, and upon arriving I realized the entire island truly is glass-obsessed- I even spied glass pastries in the shop-windows.

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While I wasn’t a fan of most of the glass for sale (mainly because I can’t stand millefiori) I did spot some ruby-red goblets à la Pablo Neruda I have long coveted. But alas, world trips don’t lend themselves well to delicate glass goblets.

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For lunch we stepped into a little hole-in-the-wall crowded with workers in technicolor orange uniforms. As always with Edna, I was in for the meal of my life: seafood pasta brimming with mussels, moist salmon in a spicy green pepper sauce, bitter spritzes to accompany.

The company wasn’t bad either.

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After lunch we ambled up and down the canals and took about a million photos. I particularly loved snapping shots of the antique wooden boats moored up around the island- my family has a 1957 Chris Craft at our cottage so they’re very near to my heart!

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Before leaving the island we stopped for gelato, my daily indulgence in Italy. Sitting there, basking in the warmth of the Italian sun with hazelnut and chocolate gelato dripping down my fingers, I joked about how my life is exactly like Eat Pray Love. And realized that I’m totally fine with that.

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Have you ever visited Murano?

Back Home, But What Next?

Back Home, But What Next?

Confession: recently I’ve been having a bit of a crisis.

I’m back home and savoring the Michigan summer as always. But the one question that plagues me day after day is, “Okay, so what now?”

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As many of you know I just returned home from a four-month trip around the world: Europe, India and Southeast Asia. My trip was perfect. Truly, it was the best, most confidence-building trip I’ve taken. I was so, so achingly happy for most of the trip and don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much.

Leaving my laptop behind served me well- instead of planning out blog posts I lived in the moment and only endured a few anxiety attacks in which contemplated my imminent doom and old age. (Loveee those.)

So now I’m at a crossroads- continue traveling or look for a job stateside.

The problem with the former option is that there’s nowhere I’m itching to visit in particular. And living in hostels loses its charm eventually- there are only so many times you can discuss the same three questions with strangers: Where are you from? Where were you last? Where are you going?

The latter option frankly terrifies me: Sign a lease? Work in an office all day? Live in the states? Be… normal?

For a while I hoped I’d follow the C’est Christine trajectory- a year in France, a year traveling Europe and Southeast Asia and after two years of non-stop fun, to settle down stateside.

But now that I’m home, I have no desire to settle down here. On the contrary, I walk around with a knot of anxiety in my chest. It’s like a pesky little voice is constantly whispering in my ear, “You do not want to be here. You do not want to be here.”

Which makes me ask myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why can’t I enjoy living in my own country? Do I have to be abroad to be happy? What about my family and friends I love so much?

I have a few ideas of what to do next: move to Australia, learn German, teach English in Japan. Yet none of these are lifelong goals, they’re whims. More like well, that would be cool, right? kind of goals. Which isn’t the passion-fueled life I’d like to be living.

I sometimes wonder if I’m living up to my potential. I come from a very bright family, from a long line of inventors and entrepreneurs. While they rack up scholarships to Yale and gigs at Google I flit around the world and “live in the moment.”

While I was in India and Southeast Asia, I was traveling with two friends who work as a management consultant and an investment banker. While they are incredible warm and supportive friends who gave me lots of sound advice, being in their company made me feel… unaccomplished.

I didn’t go to an Ivy League. I don’t make 120K and I don’t have a job with amazing benefits and intellectual coworkers. And a part of me wishes I did.

Spending time with such hard-working (and happy) people also made me wonder, “Could I pull 16-hour days on a regular basis? And if I didn’t enjoy it, does that make me lazy?”

Recently my little brother commented, “Ash, I have no idea how you travel all the time. Don’t you get sick of being broke?”

Which yes, frankly, I do get sick of being broke. I want to be able to order a glass of wine at dinner without worrying. I want to buy my friends birthday presents that cost more than $30. I want to be able to put $500 on my credit card without having a panic attack.

So here I stand, absolutely, 100% unsure of what to do next, uncertain of what will make me happy either short or long-term. I stand here utterly humbled and afraid for the future. Luckily I still have youth on my side, but how much longer will I be able to say that? How long will I have that free pass?

And I don’t want to wrap this up with my usual pithy, optimistic conclusion. I wrote this for my own catharsis as well as for the sake of other twenty-somethings grappling with the same problem.

And I also wrote this to humbly ask for your advice, any and all life or career advice you can give me. Because I honestly have no idea what my next move should be.

Carnevale in Venice: My Favorite Experiences

Carnevale in Venice: My Favorite Experiences

I arrived in Venice at night by vaporetto, the boat rocking gently as I observed the promenade. I could faintly smell seaweed as I stepped out of the boat, the cobblestones illuminated by ornate street lamps as passersby strolled past in 18th century carnevale costumes. I looked up and to my surprise, saw stars.

From the start, Venice felt both magical and bizarre, like a cross between a James Bond film and medieval time travel. And needless to say, I quickly fell in love with the surreal, sinking city.

And while visiting Venezia I didn’t see one museum, because damn it, after the Midwest’s polar vortex I wanted to enjoy some Italian sunshine.

Here are the highlights from my lovely week in Venice.

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Staying in a Gorgeous Rental House in Zattere

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Thanks to the lovely Edna‘s invitation, in Venice I stayed with her group of friends in a stunning canal-side house. The house was located in Zattere, a residential neighborhood with a wide waterfront promenade.

I think bunking up in a residential area was among the reasons I fell so hard for Venice- sipping my cappuccino while watching runners in the morning and groups of surly teenagers smoking cigarettes after school was so much more interesting than being among fellow tourists. IMG_5526

Also, in our beautiful six-bedroom home we were able to cook every night. When it was my turn to make dinner I prepared tortilla de patatas, a Spanish classic, and we enjoyed fresh fish, beautiful vegetables and fondue on other nights.

Joe taught us how to make spritzes and negronis too. (Which I thought tasted like cough medicine. So much for being sophisticated.)

And next to our house was a charming cicchetti bar, Cantinone Gia’ Schiavi. Cicchetti are the Italian cousin of pintxos, little appetizers on bread. I particularly loved the creamy gorgonzola and walnut- yum.

 

Sampling the (Somewhat Dangerous) Local Wine

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On the way home one evening, Lizard and I stopped at La Freschetteria, a wine bar where the owners fill up plastic jugs of wine for you for only a few euros. We opted for a prosecco and red sparkling wine (raboso).

Well, it turns out, this wine was… overly effective. After a wild night out at a Venetian club we deemed the wine to be roofie juice, devil wine and the most dangerous substance in all of Venice.

Having Fried Doughnuts and Italian Coffee for Breakfast

Apparently in Venice it’s tradition to eat fried doughnuts, or fritelle, during Carnevale. As a Detroiter this very felt familiar as we eat pączki on Fat Tuesday.

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And of course, when it Italy you have to imbibe as much coffee as reasonably (or not) possible. Because as we all know Italian coffee is the nectar of the gods. IMG_5726

Wandering the City

Venice is a labyrinth. So many times we hit dead ends while wandering (and in Venice a dead end is water), and eventually we realized it’s easier to to just take a vaporetto than to navigate the canals.

But whenever we got lost we just drank more coffee, so no loss, right?

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Disappointments

You guys know I keep it real on this blog, so I wanted to detail what I didn’t love about Venetian Carnevale.

Well, Carnevale as a whole was a disappointment. While I was expecting merry-making and dancing, what I got was occasionally seeing someone walk past in a costume.

I highly recommend coming to Venice but probably not during Carnevale. It seems better suited for older people- it’s not as much a young person’s festivity.

And aside from the cicchetti and one venison ragù with fresh pasta, the food in Venice was the worst I’ve had in Italy. Plus, it was highly over-priced.

But overall I had a fantastic time in Venice. Venice made me realize how arrogant a traveler I’ve become- I had put off coming to Venice for years because I thought I’d hate it. And I am so glad that hubris didn’t sway me from visiting this winter.

Have you ever visited Venice? Would you want to go for Carnevale?

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.