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.

Traipsing Round the Globe: Month 4

Traipsing Round the Globe: Month 4

Hey! Welcome to the fourth update of Traipsing Round the Globe, a real-time recap of my round-the-world trip! Check out months onetwo and three if you haven’t read them yet.

Hey guys! This edition of Traipsing Round the Globe is coming to you (slightly belatedly) from the Windy City. And okay, I know I say this every month but Month 4, the final month of my RTW trip, was the craziest yet. After six weeks of the ascetic life India, I swung hard in the other direction once I hit Southeast Asia and reveled in non-stop fun.

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Where I’ve Been:

Koh Tao, Thailand (7 days)

Penang, Melaysia (4 days)

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (1 day)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (5 days)

Melaka, Malaysia (2 days)

Halong Bay, Vietnam (3 days)

Hanoi, Vietnam (4 days)

The rest- at home in suburban Michigan!

Highs:

Koh Tao, as always. The time I spent on Koh Tao this year was a dream. I spent ten days there completing an Advanced Open Water dive course, sipping buckets at beach bars and zooming around on the back of an Aussie guy’s motorbike. And I finally saw a Muay Thai fight- fascinating!

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Falling head-over-flip-flops in love with Penang. So I have a new favorite city in Asia- Penang, Malaysia. From the crumbling colonial architecture to the ornate Peranakan mansions to the creative bursts of street art all over the city, I couldn’t have found more to love in Penang.

Finding my favorite hostel in the world. Haven’t been to Reggae Mansion in KL? Go now. Reggae Mansion was literally the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in and I’ve stayed in 60+ hostels around the globe! And I even tried my first karaoke in front of a large crowd at the rooftop bar. (But did you know American Pie is NINE minutes long?)

Another bonus- due to this blog almost all of my accommodation was comped while in Malaysia. Win.

Malay food. Upon arriving in Malaysia, I dove right into the national cuisine, which being a fusion of Indian, Chinese and local Malay food cultures, was downright delicious. I heart hawker centers.

Being adopted by a group of local girls in Melaka. While in Melaka I connected with a local girl and she and her friends essentially adopted me and drove me around to all their favorite food spots. They also taught me how to pray in a Chinese temple which was a very lovely and moving experience. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Eating everything in Vietnam. While I enjoyed the food in Southern Vietnam more than the north, I still relished every opportunity to enjoy my beloved Vietnamese food as much as possible. And at $1.50 for a meal, I indulged often and heartily. image (2)

Taking the party cruise in Halong Bay. Sailing through an enormous bay full of limestone karsts surrounded by fun-loving backpackers? Yes, please. The trip was infinitely improved by the great group of people I met on the boat, and we ended up hanging out every night until the end of my stay in Vietnam. image (3)

Coming Home. While I was sad to say goodbye to the beer and backpacking lifestyle, home has been wonderful. Each time I come home I’m reminded by what funny, loyal and generous friends and family I have, and it comforts me that no matter how long I’m gone nothing ever changes. I’m a very lucky girl.

Lows:

The Cameron Highlands.  Um, sorry, but the Cameron Highlands were so pointless. Cool, I got to take a picture of a tea plantation. Yawn.

Experiencing yet another creep in the street. Um, why does this keep happening to me? Anyway, this time it was a middle-aged man at a bus stop. As I was slightly tipsy, I screamed profanities at him while my travel buddy tried to pull me away. So vile. image (5)

Ripping up my shoulder in Vietnam. Tubing in Halong Bay? BAD idea. I nearly screamed when I hit the water and am still wincing in pain two weeks later. Ouch.

Favorite Shot:

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Yeah. So I miss $9 Thai massages with a view of the ocean.

Enough about me! What are you up to this summer?

The Best of Paris Nightlife: Where to Party in Paris

The Best of Paris Nightlife: Where to Party in Paris

At the age of 22, I spent a glorious petite année in Paris. I truly had the time of my life which may have had something to do with Paris’ fantastic bar and club scene. I find tourists often overlook Paris’ nightlife- which, it turns out, is on par with many other European capitals.

Rather than recommend specific bars, I want to highlight Paris’ top nightlife districts. And just for the record I’m more a fan of late-night bars than clubs, and I normally head to places where you don’t have to pay cover. (Yep, I was the quintessential broke au pair. No shame.) And when Momondo asked me to become a ‘local ambassador’ for Paris and share my favorite local haunts I thought there was no time like the present to finally share my favorite after-dark spots!

So without further ado, I give you all of my favorite places to party in Paris.

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Grands Boulevards

How to get there: (Boulevard Poissonnière, metro stop Grand Boulevards)

Grands Boulevards is a hopping 9th arrondissement neighborhood with many large, multi-level bars and clubs lining Boulevard Poissonnière in Paris’ (a large percentage happen to be Irish pubs, for some unknown reason). Grands Boulevards is a great place to meet both expats and locals, and due to the proximity of all the clubs it’s easy to bar-hop there.

Tip- if you’re in Grands Boulevards during the day there are many beautiful 19th century arcades around such as Passage Jouffroy and La Galerie Vivienne.

Favorite spots: O’Sullivans, Café Oz, Truskel, Corcoran’s

 

Oberkampf

How to get there: (Rue Oberkampf, metro stop Parmentier or Oberkampf)

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Oberkampf is my absolute favorite place in Paris for a night out. It’s filled with trendy, mid-size bars big enough to dance in but intimate enough you can always find your friends. From top hits pop music at Café Charbon to sultry, jazz-dancing at L’Alimentation Générale, Oberkampf has a range of late-night dance spots frequented by a more mature crowd than Bastille or Grands Boulevards.

Personal favorites: Café Charbon, L’Alimentation Générale, UFO Bar

 

Bastille

How to get there: (Rue de Lappe, metro stop Bastille or Ledru-Rollin)

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Looking for a rowdy, early-twenty something party scene? Welcome to Bastille. On the Rue de Lappe the music is loud, the drinks are strong and the crowd is young, boisterous and slightly douchey. If you steer clear of Rue de Lappe you can find more grown-up spots like Barrio Latino- but be warned, the drinks are obscenely over-priced!

Personal favorites: Café de L’Industrie, Barrio Latino, Le Bazar Egyptien (good for smoking hookah)

 

The Seine 

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During the warmer months, the Seine is the ideal place to pre-game, socialize and practice your French. While I wouldn’t spend the entire night there, I would definitely head there around 10 p.m. with a few bottles of cider and a whole bunch of friends. Head to the quay near Notre Dame- it’s always bustling!

 

Important tips for going out in Paris:

The metro closes at 2 p.m. best it’s best to get there around 1:30 a.m., some lines close earlier than others. You can also take the Noctilien, Paris’ night bus.

Parisians dress fairly sharp when they go out but you still don’t need six-inch stilettos. (I used to wear booties or black suede boots- no dancing ’til dawn in painful heels for me!)

Pre-drink hard. In Paris drinks are expensive, at around eight euros a cocktail. They add up quickly!

Don’t feel ashamed if you indulge in a late-night Nutella sandwich… (It happens to the best of us.)

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or a hangover-curing McDonalds feast the next morning.

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On a final note this is basically the French version of my friends and I on a night out in Paris:

Where are your favorite places to party in Paris?

Back From My World Trip and Kicking Off the Blog!

Back From My World Trip and Kicking Off the Blog!

Hey lovelies! Guess who’s back in the beautiful US of A? This blogger.

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Life is good- I’m happy to be home, as always, but I won’t lie- I’m feeling the post-Asia blues a bit more acutely than usual. Life here is just so much more expensive and boring (no offense, Michigan!), and I miss the chaos and the cheap beer and the plastic stools of Southeast Asia.

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The best part of being home- my little brother and sister.

Regardless, now that I’m home the blog is back on! I’ve missed blogging a ton in the last four months, and not having my laptop definitely changed my travels for better and for worse.

And while I’m trying to stay grateful and enjoy the moment, my head is clouded with worry: worry about finding a job, settling down (or not?) and especially about replenishing my very lean bank accounts. (How one can spend $3,000 dollars in one month in Southeast Asia is a mystery to me, but here I stand.)

I’ve never had less of a plan than I do right now, and the world is truly my oyster- my current job hunt stretches from Shanghai to Paris to San Francisco. I may be anywhere in a year.

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Anyway, enough about me- how are you guys? How are your summers going so far? Any travel plans?

Tons and tons of bisous,
Ashley