AK Monthly Recap: August 2017

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Hello. I’m thirty-three. And I’m more balanced than I’ve been in a year and a half.

It took a long time to get this point. When I moved to New York in early 2016, I knew it was time — and I was so happy. Even so, I struggled with anxiety. Was I not traveling enough? How would I manage my travels and build a life in New York? Would my readers leave me?! How would I earn enough money to survive in New York when it was so much more expensive than traveling and I would be doing less of the travel that would actually earn me money in the first place?!

Balance is fallacy, I wrote on my 32nd birthday last year.

I still believe that perfect balance is an impossibility. That said, while my life is not 100% balanced, it’s pretty close right now.

For one thing, I’m thrilled to be working with so many US-based destinations this year. A few years ago, only European destinations had budgets, so this is a welcome development. I love exploring my own country and sharing it with my readers. I love that I can swoop in on a quick flight, work an intense 3-5 day campaign, then fly home and do the rest of my content creation work from New York.

And this schedule is working very well. Every 2-3 months, I do a 2-3 week trip, and in between I do short trips of 3-5 days. This allows me to live fully in New York without wondering that I’m gone too often.

Maybe I won’t be as happy with this schedule in the future — but for right now, it’s excellent.

Destinations Visited

New York, New York, USA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Vail, Denver, and Boulder, Colorado, USA

Oulu, Kuopio, Porosalmie, Oravi, Porvoo, and Helsinki, Finland

Minsk, Belarus

Favorite Destinations

Vail. A kickass mountain town with fabulous hiking and wonderful, warm people.

Porvoo. A pretty little wisp of a Finnish town.

Helsinki. Still one of my favorite offbeat European capitals, and this time I got to explore more islands.

Highlights

Turning 33 in style. I turned 33 on August 2 (no, no birthday post this year, but I might write one this month) and went to see Waitress on Broadway with my friends Beth and Amelia. There was a special reason for that: my cousin Matt was in the show! He’s been in the cast for months now, also serving as the understudy for Earl (the mean husband), so when he announced that he’d be playing Earl for a two-week run, we got tickets!

I hadn’t seen Matt in something like 20 years, but he invited us backstage after the show. It was so nice to reconnect and chat about our grandmothers — and take lots of pictures with pies!

Also, we got the cheapest tickets possible ($49 plus $12.50 fees for a total of $61.50 on the TodayTix app) and were in the very back row of the theater, but the seats were still quite good. If you want to see Waitress, go ahead and buy the cheapest seats — you’ll be fine!

After the show, the three of us planned to go to Guy Fieri’s restaurant as a joke, but they were closed and we went to the revolving restaurant on top of the Marriott instead. That’s how I learned that at 33 I get nauseous at revolving restaurants. Ha!

The next day, my sister Sarah and Beth and I grabbed Korean bar food and discovered a chocolate and wine restaurant next door. SO good.

A chance to revisit Philadelphia. I’ve always considered it my least favorite city in the US, so when Booking.com invited me to revisit my least favorite city and see if I could have a better time, I was excited to go. And I had a great time! It was awesome seeing my old friends Dave and Jeff and making new ones, like my reader Maria, and I ate and drank my way across Philly’s best restaurants and bars.

My friend Lisa came to New York oh so briefly! She came in for a day trip on the day I returned from Philly, so we met up for a nice lunch and stroll through the city, concluding at the magic that is Eataly.

New sunglasses. I wear sunglasses constantly, so I allow myself one designer pair per year. My 2017 pair, pictured in the top photo of the post, is by Tom Ford. I LOVE THEM.

Enjoying glorious Vail in the summer. I made my first-ever visit to Colorado (I know, I’m shocked too) this month, focusing on a campaign to showcase Vail in the summer months. Vail is one of those places I had always heard about, but never considered visiting because I don’t ski. Well, it turns out Vail in the summer is amazing — it’s so beautiful, the air is crisp, and it’s far less busy than during the winter. It’s most locals’ favorite time of year!

For me, Vail was all about the glorious hiking. I especially loved the hike that I did with llamas (!!), and I enjoyed exploring the town, getting to know the locals, spending time in the spa at the Sonnenalp Resort, and eating at so many delicious restaurants. Stay tuned for more on Vail very soon.

Spending time with friends and family in Colorado. My cousins Colleen and Cynthia live in Denver and I was stoked to finally visit them on their turf and check out the places they’re always posting about — namely The Tattered Cover bookstore and D Bar, an incredible dessert restaurant, as well as Hop Alley for dinner.

I didn’t meet these cousins until we were adults and I’m so glad to have them in my life now — we get along so well and have so much in common. The three of us love books and writing and travel, Cynthia loves Scotland as much as I do if not more, and Colleen is the author whose books I review often here.

In Boulder, I met up with two friends from different walks of life: Carrie, who came on my first Central America tour in 2015, and Matt from the world of travel blogging, a.k.a. Expert Vagabond. The three of us checked out Boulder’s best offerings including brunch at Snooze (you guys, I had a chilaquiles Benedict with poached eggs and barbacoa over tortillas with cheese and salsa AS WELL AS a giant blueberry danish pancake AS A SIDE DISH), plus a stop at Dushanbe Tea House, which was disassembled in Tajikistan and shipped to Boulder piece by piece. Oh, and there were a LOT of people out protesting circumcision.

Watching the eclipse in New York City. We didn’t have a total eclipse this far north, but it was still an outstanding event. I went to the Museum of Natural History with my friend Amy and we watched the eclipse surrounded by science-loving New Yorkers.

Finally seeing the Air Guitar World Championships. I’ve wanted to attend this competition for years — since long before I started the blog. Finally the opportunity arrived: my friends at Visit Finland invited me to do another summer trip in summer, and I immediately asked if I could go to the championships. They loved the idea and I was so happy we were able to make it work out!

This was one of the most fun festivals I’ve ever been to. The performers were so enthusiastic and funny, and I got to know several of them at the super-fun after-parties. That’s the Jinja Assassin, my favorite, pictured above. He tied for second.

Chilling out in the Finnish countryside. I stayed at an incredible resort called Järvisydan, which has been some kind of guesthouse since 1658 (!!) and one of the owners is an 11th-generation hospitality worker (!!!). I explored the islands, forests, and fishing villages, and spent time in the best spa I’ve ever experienced.

After that, I headed to the pretty town of Porvoo for some photography and a fitness class out in the forest. Porvoo reminded me so much of my beloved Rauma, but on a smaller scale. Next I headed to Helsinki and met up with a few Finnish friends: Sami, whom I met in Kuala Lumpur in 2010 and who took me on a 20,000-step walk around his island, and Katja, with whom I delivered a kickass conference speech in Italy in 2013 and who took me out to lunch in the city.

A new country: Belarus. Cool to visit country #71 and my fifth-to-last country in Europe. I had a nice walk along the riverfront and discovered a cool coffeeshop, but the rest of Belarus belongs in “challenges”…

Challenges

I killed my computer in Vail. Since I had bought my MacBook Air in spring 2012, I knew it would be time to upgrade to a new one soon. Yet I wanted to wait until it was absolutely necessary. Then it suddenly became necessary — I STUPIDLY spilled water on my keyboard and none of the top keys worked!

I ordered a refurbished 13″ MacBook Pro with maxed out RAM and it arrived in New York shortly after I got back from Colorado. I’d like to thank the Travel Blog Success community for helping me choose the right laptop for me. That Facebook group is worth the membership alone.

Oh, also — I picked up a cheap silicone keyboard protector. Because I’m not letting another spill destroy this machine.

The good news? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE MY NEW COMPUTER. Man, you don’t realize how bad your old one was until you get a new one and everything flies at the speed of light…

The flight over to Europe was pretty awful. As much as I appreciated flying direct to Helsinki on Finnair, I hated leaving at 5:40 PM and arriving at 8:20 AM, or the equivalent of 1:20 AM New York time. They started serving breakfast at the equivalent of midnight. Yeah, I didn’t sleep a wink. And the woman in front of me had her seat back the whole time…and I was in a middle seat…I got a lot of reading done, but that was the only redeeming factor.

Minsk was rough. Definitely the most challenging place I’ve traveled in Europe. A significant language barrier, which I expected, plus some other quirks — like subway stations that have names in both Russian and Belarusian (often VERY different names) but sometimes the stations only have signs in one language and are announced only in the different language!

All that plus the fact that nearly all wifi is only available via receiving an SMS code — so if you don’t have a SIM card (and I didn’t), you basically have no wifi. Good thing I had it at my apartment…

On top of that, I didn’t find there to be much tourism value in Minsk, though I know I could have seen a lot more if I had made more of an effort. I did love my walk along the river, though. I would only recommend Minsk to experienced travelers. It’s hard.

And a small qualm — as soon as I got on the train to Philadelphia, I realized that my lone pair of sunglasses had lost one of its pads. Wearing them hurt like hell!

Most Popular Post

How I Stay Healthy While Traveling — A guide to staying well on the road.

Other Posts

A Different 24 Hours in Philadelphia — What I did in my former least favorite city.

Portraits of New Yorkers During the Eclipse — I loved the shots I got!

Most Popular Instagram Photo

I took this picture in Kuhmo, Finland, three years ago, and shared it as a preview to my upcoming trip to Finland. Just looking at that makes my heart swell with memories of the midnight sun! For more photos from my travels as well as live updates, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

Fitness Update

My sister bought me a foam roller for my birthday! I was about to buy myself the same thing. That really says it all.

Beyond that, I’m considering revamping my diet. I’ve been thinking that I should reduce my consumption of meat. I think I’m going to start small and slowly reduce it over time.

This flies in the face of eating mostly paleo, which I still believe to be the healthiest diet, but as someone who flies a lot for work, I need to reduce my impact on the climate. I already do a lot of the top climate recommendations — I don’t have biological kids, I live in an apartment as opposed to a house, I don’t own a car and rarely drive — but a plant-based diet is the most effective method that I’m not already doing.

So. I’m not going to go full vegan, but I plan to eat a lot less meat, especially red meat, which is the worst for the climate. I plan to eat a lot more nuts, seeds, and eggs. We’ll see where it goes.

Also this month, I got my first Fitbit — the Alta HR, which is slim and cute but is a heart rate monitor as well. I’m finding it interesting what burns more calories and what doesn’t. Also, my resting heart rate went up super-high when I was in the Rockies!

What I Read This Month

I swore I was going to finish the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge this month, but I just barely missed it — only one book to go! I’ve read 51 books so far this year, all of them fulfilling categories of the challenge. I’m proud to have read so many books, definitely a record in my adult years, but I’m looking forward to getting back to reading what I want to read without worrying about category fulfillment.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (1985) — I actually first heard about Perfume from a guy I dated awhile back who had lived abroad in Europe. “Everyone in Europe has read this book but hardly any Americans have,” he told me. And it’s true — I hadn’t even heard of it, but my friend Dani, who is German, saw it poking out of my bag and exclaimed, “Oh, Patrick Süskind!”

A baby is born in the streets of 19th century Paris, abandoned, and is soon discovered to have no scent, unnerving everyone he meets. However, he has the keenest sense of smell and uses it to his advantage — working with perfumes, using the power of scent to influence people, and eventually becoming a murderer. I won’t give anything away more than that.

I loved this book — rich and literary, such an original idea, so many dark twists, and a protagonist who is pure evil yet you can’t help wanting him to succeed. Not to mention a bit on the short side, which I appreciated. Not a word was wasted (take note, Murakami). I enjoyed this book far more than I expected and I highly recommend it. Category: a book that takes place over a character’s life span.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007) — I fell in love with Junot Díaz’s writing when I read the superb This Is How You Lose Her in 2015, but it took me quite a while to read his most famous novel, the one that catapulted him to fame and won him the Pulitzer Prize. Oscar Wao is a very non-traditional Dominican-American — he’s a geek, he’s overweight, and he has absolutely no game with the ladies. But that doesn’t matter when there is a fukú, a curse, leering over the heads of his family, waiting to strike.

This book is a soaring exploration of Dominican history, the immigrant experience, and relationships between friends, lovers, and family. And it’s told in Díaz’s brilliant style, English and Spanish and profanity and uninhibited revelations. But for me, the book didn’t truly come alive until Díaz inhabited the voice of Yunior, the same protagonist of his other books, This Is How You Lose Her and Drown. Yunior is unforgettable. And I’m fairly certain that Yunior is a not-so-fictitious version of Díaz. I’m glad I finally read it, but I still think This Is How You Lose Her is Díaz’s masterpiece. Category: a book that’s been on your TBR list for far too long.

American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (2017) — Over a period of several months in rural Accomack County, Virginia, fires filled the night skies. Several dozen arsons were committed, new fires appearing almost every night. In a community where the only firefighters were volunteers, it took them forever to find the culprits — but once they did, they realized it was a local couple tied up in a crazy love story.

I love true crime, but reading about the graphic murders of innocent people (like In Cold Blood) leaves me feeling uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be reading about that. American Fire was different — while property was damaged, it was mostly abandoned houses and most of the damage was the terror on a local community, where people in eternal fear of where the next fire would take place. More than anything, I enjoyed this close look at a once-wealthy part of rural America now struggling to keep its residents financially afloat. Category: a book with a subtitle.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) — For the challenge I needed to pick a book that I’d read before that always makes me smile. To be honest, most of the books I love deeply don’t make me smile — or they make me smile in spite of grueling sadness, which is always what gets me emotionally. But Eleanor and Park is a book that makes me smile with its sweetness.

This book is about first love between two high school outcasts in Alaska — the lone half-Asian kid in a white midwestern town and a girl living through poverty and an abusive home environment. To me, the brilliance of this book is how Rowell gets you to feel every thudding emotion throughout your whole body. Perhaps it’s simply the universality of first love. Whenever I read this book, I feel the happiness skimming underneath my skin, flowing through every inch of my body. I really can’t describe it any other way. If you haven’t read this book, do, and let me know how it affects you. Category: a book you’ve read before that always makes you smile.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2004) — I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood and The Handmaid’s Tale, but I was not a fan of this book, the first in the Maddadam trilogy. It takes place in the future and is told by Jimmy, a.k.a. Snowman, presumably the last human left on Earth after decades of unchecked genetic engineering ruins the planet. He’s left in charge of a tribe of childlike genetically engineered quasi-humans, the creation of his best friend and brilliant scientist, Crake. The book tells the story of how the world got to be this way, plus the love triangle between him, Crake, and a Southeast Asian child prostitute turned teacher named Oryx.

It’s a realistic and scary dystopia, which often makes me uncomfortable (hello, The Road), but what irritated me the most was that this book was all exposition. Additionally, Oryx was the epitome of a manic pixie dream girl — the happy, beautiful, perfect girl who loves you for no real reason. I’m surprised to see that dreadful trope appear from a feminist author like Atwood. And a lot of reviews call this a love story, but no, I wouldn’t call it that at all; it was a tale of an infatuation. I doubt I’ll be reading the rest of the series. Category: the first book in a series you’ve never read before.

What I Watched This Month

Looking for something funny to watch on Netflix? Check out Ali Wong’s comedy special, Baby Cobra. I LOVED THIS SPECIAL and Ali Wong is one of my new favorite comedians. She is hilarious and it’s especially relatable viewing if you’re a woman in your early thirties. Oh, and she did this show while seven months pregnant!

Coming Up in September 2017

The month is starting in Minsk and then I’m off to a few more countries! First to Lithuania, where it looks like I’ll only have time for Vilnius (I wanted to see Kaunas, too, but there was a snafu on September 1 that you’ll hear about in a month…). Next up, Estonia: Tallinn and a day trip to Lahemaa National Park.

Then a brief stop in Helsinki and a ferry trip to St. Petersburg, Russia! I’m taking the St. Peter Line ferry from Helsinki, which is one of very few ways US citizens can visit Russia without a visa. There’s not a lot of reliable information about it online so I look forward to writing all about it for you.

I’m finishing with two more days in Helsinki and then I fly home to New York. After that, I’ll be staying put for the rest of the month, maybe taking a three-day trip somewhere if I have the time and/or energy.

Any suggestions for Vilnius, Tallinn, or St. Petersburg? Share away!



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