My name is Kate McCulley and I travel the world for a living. Her mission to show you that yes, it is possible for women to travel on their own and independently while staying safe and having the time of their lives.This is the ultimate guide to solo female travel and inspirational adventures around the world.
Day trips from Florence, Italy can take to the best places in Italy within a few hours. Just hop on a train and in no time you can be riding in a gondola through Venice or sipping wine in Chianti or eating your way through Bologna or taking hilarious selfies with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
And I should know — I’m an expert on traveling in northern Italy. I lived in Florence for four months and have since returned to Italy more than a dozen times. I’ve traveled all over Italy, from the Veneto to Sicily, but my expertise is concentrated in central northern Italy: Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia-Romagna.
The great thing about these three regions is that they’re all within a stone’s throw of Florence. And thanks to new high-speed trains that have been built in the last decade, it’s never been easier (or faster) to travel across northern Italy!
For this reason, you could base yourselves in Florence for a good chunk of your Italy trip and still see a wide range of Italy. For a first-timer’s two-week trip to Italy, I’d recommend a full week in Florence bookended with a few days each in Rome and Venice. The older I get, the less I like changing accommodation often, and this is a nice way to have a long-term base (and less unpacking and repacking!) while still getting to see a ton of varied destinations in Italy.
I’ve chosen the best day trips from Florence: day trips in Tuscany, but also the surrounding regions. Famous spots like Rome and Cinque Terre are on my list, but so are lesser-known spots like Pienza (oh, I love Pienza SO much!) and Volterra. If you’re a devoted Catholic, I’ve got the perfect destination for you; if you’re a Shakespeare superfan, I’ve got a trip for you, too.
Here are my picks for the best day trips from Florence!
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, without a doubt, is one of the most famous sights in all of Italy. Not to mention the fact that it was made for Instagram! And since it’s so close to Florence — only an hour’s journey — it’s a very easy day trip.
However…while Pisa is nice, I don’t think it has enough attractions to justify a full day. Luckily, there is a gorgeous walled Tuscan town nearby that makes a perfect pairing: Lucca! Lucca is like a mini-Florence, brimming with beauty and art and charm. It does get its tourists, but it’s not quite as overwhelming as Siena or San Gimignano.
Best Things to Do in Pisa:
Take all the selfies in front of the Leaning Tower. Go ahead and be cheesy — everyone else will be!
Climb the Leaning Tower. Tickets are restricted and strictly timed to keep the tower safe, and I recommend buying advance tickets as the lines can be long.
Don’t forget the other buildings! The Duomo, Baptistery, and other buildings by the tower are just as worthy of your exploration.
Explore the city of Pisa. Take a stroll along the Arno, visit Santa Maria della Spina church, check out Piazza Dei Cavalieri.
Best Things to Do in Lucca:
Lucca is a city suited to aimless wandering. Some of the best times you’ll have will be from what you discover with no destination in mind.
Walk the city walls. Lucca is a walled city and walking the walls will give you beautiful views all over the region.
You could do a day trip to Pisa on its own, and you could do a day trip to Lucca on its own — but I think it’s best to do both in a single day. Ideally, Pisa in the morning and Lucca in the afternoon.
If you’re spending time in Florence, you should take the time to explore some smaller towns in the Tuscan countryside. Siena and San Gimignano are two of the best and easiest towns to visit from Florence. They’re close to Florence and close to each other, so it’s easy to maximize your time and visit both in a single day.
Siena has long been the rival of Florence. In Renaissance times, they vied for the most brilliant creative minds in the region. Today, much of the rivalry extends to football! For that reason, Siena provides a lovely contrast to Florence. And you can’t beat the tower-strewn skyline of San Gimignano.
Best Things to Do in Siena:
See the Piazza delCampo. This is one of the more expansive and immense piazzas in Tuscany — anything that’s worth happening happens in this piazza. And if you’re feeling adventures, climb the Torre del Mangia for city views.
Admire the iconic cathedral. The Duomo of Siena is famous for its black-and-white-striped exterior, its Bernini-designed dome, and its mosaic floor. This is one of the most memorable churches in Tuscany.
Try Sienese dishes. Siena has its own iconic eats, like truffles and panzanella. Join a food tour to taste the best of Siena.
See the Palio! Siena’s most famous festival, its iconic horse race, takes place on July 2 or August 16. If you’re interested in this, know that it’s crowded and expensive. I recommend booking way ahead and staying a few days to enjoy the festivities that take place for three days leading up to the race. Check rates on Siena hotels here.
Best Things to Do in San Gimignano:
Admire the towers. San Gimignano is often referred to as the “Manhattan of Tuscany” due to its many towers! Spend time walking through the streets and browsing the shops as well.
Climb to the top of Torre Grossa. You’ll find the best views of San Gimignano from here, the tallest tower in town. You’ll also have access to the Palazzo Communale, which is home to beautiful frescoes.
Eat cinghiale. Cinghiale, or wild boar, can be found throughout Tuscany, but it’s especially good in San Gimignano. It’s a rich meat similar to pork. My favorite way to have it is over pappardelle pasta. Or you could buy some cinghiale salami to take with you!
While I recommend visiting Siena and San Gimignano in a single day, you can also visit each on its own for a full day trip if you felt so inclined. This is your trip — do what you want!
It may look far away on the map, but Venice is a very doable day trip from Florence! Thanks to the high-speed trains, you can get from Florence to Venice in about two hours. That wasn’t an option even ten years ago.
What can be said about Venice? You already have a clear image of Venice in your mind: canals, crumbling buildings, gondoliers in striped shirts singing romantic songs. Venice is also filled with art, culture, and delicious food. There is no other place in the world quite like Venice, and if you’re planning a trip of any length to Italy, it’s a fabulous choice.
Best Things to Do in Venice:
Take a ride in a gondola. It’s the iconic experience of Venice! Gondola rides can be expensive — it’s much cheaper to take a shared ride with others, though far more romantic to book a private ride with a loved one. Book a shared gondola here or book a private ride here.
Feed the pigeons in Piazza San Marco. Personally, this would be the LAST thing my bird-phobic self would do in Venice, but hey, people enjoy it. Anything for the ‘gram.
Go to the top of the Campanile. Venice’s bell tower will give you some of the best views above the city.
Eat cichetti. Cichetti are Venice’s version of bar snacks, similar to Spanish tapas. Grab a glass of local wine and enjoy olives, sandwiches, or tiny fried concoctions while standing up at the bar.
Get lost. I find that my favorite moments in Venice tend to be when I wander on my own away from touristy areas.
Do keep in mind that the express trains back to Florence often don’t run past 7:15 PM. If you’re booking trains independently, be sure to check the schedule before booking your trip. You could end up having to take a string of slow trains back to Florence, which will eat up your trip when you don’t need to.
While possible, do note that Cinque Terre is an ambitious day trip — ideally, I’d recommend visiting for two days or even three. But we don’t always have as much time to spare as we’d like, so if you have only one day free, a group tour is pretty much the best way to experience Cinque Terre in an efficient time manner.
Enjoy the beauty and take lots of photos. This is what Cinque Terre is all about. Enjoy the colors, the views, and get all the Instagram shots you can. The most beautiful route is arguably between Monterosso and Vernazza. The photo above is Vernazza.
Eat pesto alla genovese. If any dish symbolizes the Liguria region, it’s pesto, made with the finest local basil. Make sure you eat at least one pasta dish with pesto!
If you want to experience Cinque Terre at night — and especially if you’re a photographer looking for those iconic shots — I recommend visiting Cinque Terre for a few days rather than just a day trip. Check out rates on Cinque Terre hotels here.
Believe it or not, Bologna is actually my favorite city in Italy! It’s also well known for being the best foodie destination in all of Italy. Bologna is a city of many nicknames — la rossa (the red, for its many red buildings), la dotta (the learned, for its university), but most importantly, la grossa — the fat, which you will be if you enjoy Bologna to the fullest!
I love Bologna for its food culture, but also because it has a different feel from Florence. It receives far less tourists and thus feels more like a regular city catering to locals. There is art, though not as much as Florence; I’d argue that it has a more intellectual feel. Overall, when in Bologna I feel like I’m part of authentic Italian life, not a tourist visiting from America.
Best Things to Do in Bologna:
Go on a food tour. More than anything, you go to Bologna to explore the cuisine. Be sure to try local specialties like tortellini, mortadella, squacquerone cheese, parmigiano reggiano cheese, prosciutto di Parma, tradizionale balsamic vinegar, piadine, and tagliatelle ragú, or what pasta bolognese should actually taste like.
Climb the Torre Asinelli. The best views of Bologna are from the top of this tower, one of a pair overlooking the city.
Explore the porticoes. Bologna is famous for its 40 kilometers of porticoes. They’re beautiful to look at, perfect shielding from the sun and rain, and they make great photos as well.
Take a cooking class. An authentic recipe is the ultimate Emilia-Romagna souvenir to bring home to your loved ones!
Experience aperitivo. Every evening, bars put out buffets of food before dinner. Order a glass of wine or cocktail and help yourself to the selection!
If you aren’t set on spending your entire trip in Florence, consider spending extensive time in Bologna and exploring the Emilia-Romagna region instead. I hold this region close to my heart and it’s an excellent choice for offbeat or foodie travelers, or travelers who have been to Italy before. From Bologna you can visit fabulous cities like Parma, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna, Rimini, Brisighella, and even the landlocked nation of San Marino! For more, see my 25 Best Food Experiences in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna.
Chianti is not only a type of wine — the wine is named after a region in Tuscany. The Chianti region stretches from just south of Florence to just north of Siena. To experience this region to the fullest, go on a day trip covering several wineries — this way, you don’t have to worry about driving! Chianti is a lot more diverse than you may think, and you can taste several varieties like Chianti Classico, Chianti Ruffino, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, and more. This region is filled with rolling green hills and tiny villages that are perfect for photos.
And yes, be prepared for someone to ask for some fava beans. It comes with the territory.
Best Things to Do in Chianti:
Enjoy the countryside.
That is it.
If you’d rather experience wine without leaving the city, consider a wine tasting class in Florence. That way you can learn about the wines while leaving extra time to explore Florence itself. And if you’re looking to bring wine home, make sure it has a DOC or DOCG label around the neck. This means you’ve brought home the most authentic wine.
Star Wars? I saw it once, when I was six, and I got so scared, I thought Darth Vader was hiding in my closet for the next several months. I’ve never seen any of the other Star Wars movies. E.T. had a similar fate. And when my friends say, “What do you mean, you’ve never seen Jaws/The Godfather Part II/Breakfast at Tiffany’s/Saving Private Ryan/any of the Lord of the Rings movies?” I sigh and shrug.
Am I proud of this? No. Ignorance is never something of which to be proud. But I much prefer books and episodic TV over movies, so I don’t see that changing. If I watch any movie these days, it’s probably going to be a bad romantic comedy.
But there was one time in my life when I saw tons of excellent movies. It lasted from roughly 2002, when I started college, to 2010, when I drastically cut my expenses to save for travel. I would try to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, many of them at the $3 theater a short walk from my university.
That theater was where I first saw Lost in Translation.
I was a 19-year-old college sophomore back then. I had just broken up with my first serious boyfriend and though it was the right decision, I spent the next few months feeling bummed out. I was excelling in most of my courses but struggling with philosophy, wondering why it was so hard to wrap my head around Kierkegaard. I’d get my first singing solo a few months later. And yes, I was already blogging. It was a fairly sedate time in my life.
And I was dreaming of travel. I had always yearned to travel, ever since I was a kid who would sprint to the 900s section in the library and who would pore over her world map placemat before dinner. But back then, the idea of a long-term solo trip hadn’t even occurred to me. I’d realize it was a possibility three years later.
Lost in Translation lit a fire under me. It was full of travel moments I dreamed of experiencing myself — singing karaoke in a private room with friends until dawn, walking through a temple in the woods and coming across a traditional wedding, running through the crowds at Shibuya Crossing.
It touched me deeply, too — the intimacy that you can achieve only with a complete stranger.
Lost in Translation was my favorite film that year and has remained among my most beloved films since. I cheered when Sofia Coppola won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. And I was infuriated when the Best Actor Oscar went to Sean Penn in Mystic River instead of Bill Murray. I wouldn’t have been as mad if Johnny Depp had won for the Pirates of the Caribbean, but really? Sean Penn? That dude’s an asshole and he wasn’t that good in Mystic River. (To this day, I consider that one of the most egregious missteps the Academy has ever made. And I wasn’t any happier when Sean Penn won his second Oscar for Milk over Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler a few years later.)
The Perfect Travel Movie
I think that Lost in Translation is one of the best travel movies ever made. Why? It actually shows the truth behind travel. Yes, there are happy and beautiful and memorable times, but there are plenty of awkward and sad and confusing moments as well. You argue with your partner. You attempt to understand and be understood by people who don’t speak your language. You go to a restaurant and feel stupid because you can’t read the menu. You cling to every fellow traveler you can find, just to feel normal — but for every true friendship you make, you’re likely to meet a handful of self-absorbed idiots.
So many long-term travelers get on the road and are shocked at instances like these. Why am I having such a rough time? I didn’t see anything like this on Instagram! But Lost in Translation gets the travel mindset completely right.
Tokyo couldn’t have been a better setting for this movie. The city on its surface appears so modern and efficient and organized — yet it’s still Japan, and Japan is governed by a set of unspoken rules known only to the Japanese. Visiting Japan means that you’ll be confused so much of the time. Even on my second visit, it took me a good half hour to find an ATM, get money out, and buy a ticket for the train.
Which is why it makes sense that so much of it was shot at the Park Hyatt Tokyo — the rooms, the pool, and again and again, the bar. The hotel becomes a sanctuary when you can’t handle the stress of an incomprehensible nation any longer. And for years, I yearned to stay there myself. It has long been my “if I could stay anywhere” hotel.
Nostalgia for the Future
It’s one thing to be nostalgic about your past, or even the present — the Portuguese have the best word for this, saudade — but Lost in Translation actually made me nostalgic for the future. I knew that travel was in my future, and in this movie I saw fragments of life that would happen.
You would reach out to a friend in your time of need and get rebuffed.
Charlotte calls a friend on the phone and after some small talk, confesses, “I don’t know who I married.” Her friend absentmindedly misses the comment and Charlotte, nearly in tears, doesn’t say anything else.
That would be me nine years later, messaging the only friend I knew would be awake in my time zone, about to type out, “I think I need to leave him but we have all these flights and comps booked and I would be so unprofessional if I made them spend extra money on those flights and tours for someone who didn’t show up — what do I do?” The first time I had admitted it to anyone, ever. Instead, I typed, “Hey, are you free to talk?”
His reply: “It’s not a good time, can this wait?”
“Sure,” I replied. I never brought it up with him or anyone else again.
You would mess up.
Remember that scene when Bob wakes up in the bed of the jazz singer? In a fraction of a second, you can see every emotion on his face. It’s not the usual “Oh my God, I cheated on my wife!” — that would be too easy, too expected. Instead, he opens his eyes and winces and in a fraction of a second you can read an encyclopedia on his face: “Goddammit, I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? Why did I drink that much? Do I really have to sleep with every woman who shows a modicum of interest in me? And now she’s singing in her bathrobe and I need to figure out how to get out of her hotel room without offending her…”
Well. We all make mistakes, Kate, and you’re no exception.
Six years later, you would go out for drinks with a blogger colleague in Chiang Mai and wind up wildly making out with him at arguably the sleaziest club in town. You would wake up, hungover and mortified and ALONE THANK GOD, the next day. Several years later on the other side of the world, he would say, “Hey, remember when we made out and it was no big deal?” and you both would finally have a good laugh over it.
You would dance.
My favorite scene is when Charlotte and Bob and her friends go out for a wild night in Tokyo. There’s music, karaoke, and at one point they end up dancing to Phoenix’s “Too Young” in someone’s apartment.
That scene when everyone is dancing and letting loose is the absolute pinnacle of the movie. It’s the personification of that moment when you’ve consumed the perfect amount of alcohol, enough to dance so much better but to have control over your words. Even throughout the awkwardness, the misunderstandings, and the loneliness, a group of people across cultures have found a way to enjoy their time together. Everybody’s dancing, ooh yeah…
As I watched that scene, I dreamed of dancing like that around the world. And I would.
Twelve years later, two friends and I would burst out of a jeep in rural Western Australia, not even pulling to the side of the road first, just because we wanted to turn up The Fray’s “Over My Head” and groove in the middle of absolute nowhere.
Eleven years later, I would be in a salsa club in Antigua, Guatemala, with seven of my new best friends. Randomly the music escalated — and despite never having heard the song before, all eight of us instinctively jumped and DROPPED THE BEAT like no other beat had ever been dropped in history.
Eight years later, I would be in a rollicking town hall in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, twirling around to traditional folk music with kilted locals until 8:00 in the morning.
Seven years later, I would be dancing in unison with Sharpied, paint-covered backpackers at riverside bars in Vang Vieng, Laos.
But even two, three, four years later, before I became a traveler, before smartphones even existed, I would find bliss dancing in sweaty Boston basement clubs. All I needed was “Return of the Mack,” a stranger to grind on, and my girlfriends to chase him off if he got weird or high-five me if he didn’t.
It’s 10:00 PM and I’m sitting in a bar so familiar I swear I’ve been here before. Tiny pinpricks of light peek through the floor-to-ceiling windows, rooftops flashing bright red, the entire city of Tokyo before me. It’s one thing to know that Tokyo is the most populated city in the world (by metropolitan area, at least); it’s another to see it for yourself. All height and sprawl — the only city that comes close to it is Toronto.
This is the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. You need to pay to get in, but it’s free for guests.
No, I’m not drinking Suntory, toasting relaxing times. That would be far too heavy-handed. Instead I sip the Radio City, made with Grey Goose Earl Grey, pink peppercorn syrup, and soda. I smile at the irony of drinking cocktails named after Manhattan landmarks when my actual apartment lies in great proximity to them.
A curly-haired female singer leads the band, just like in the movie. They are quite good. I’m sure they have to be to get a gig like this. Unlike Bob Harris, though, I’m not getting drunk and bedding any of the musicians.
I’m surrounded by people around the world. Japanese couples. European businessmen and women. Everyone here is the star of their own movie.
I am finally here, lost but fulfilled, in a haze of booze, jazz and cigarette smoke.
You got there, Kate.
It took a lot of work. A lot of sacrifices. And a metric fuck-ton of privileged circumstances of birth. There was the time you were owed $9,000 by various vendors and were down to $200 in your checking account. The time Russians attacked your site so hard nobody could access it. That “hidden surf spots in South Africa” feature you got assigned for a magazine after they rejected your “adventure activities in South Africa” idea, the most difficult thing on the planet to both research and write.
It paid off. You worked your ass off, you tried new things before anyone else did, you stayed original while so many bloggers copied you, and you got here on your own merit. You got to a point where not only you could afford to stay there as a guest — albeit briefly and not often — the hotel offered you a free night’s stay because they wanted you there. They wanted you there that much.
A fabulous suite in Tokyo. A place where they called you “Ms. McCulley” wherever you went. Just a 17-hour door-to-door journey away from your Manhattan apartment.
This is what it’s like to have a travel dream come true in your thirties.
Essential Info: The Park Hyatt Tokyo was fantastic start to finish, a true luxury experience, with some of the most spectacular views in town. I loved my suite, the pool, the spa area, and the incredible service. Rates from $616.
Before my trip I bought a digital copy of Lonely Planet Japan and kept it on my phone. I highly recommend you do so as well, as Tokyo can be a very confusing city and Google Maps often gave me false locations. Having the added security of a guidebook put me at ease.
Even though Japan is a very safe country, anything can happen. Be sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Japan.
This campaign was brought to you byANA — All Nippon Airways, who covered my flights to Japan, the expenses of three days in Tokyo, and all my time in Hokkaido. I extended my time in Japan an additional five days at my own expense. I had full freedom to do anything I wanted, and all vendors were all paid in full except the Park Hyatt Tokyo, who offered me one comped night and one night at a media rate of $500 including spa access and breakfast, plus they kindly picked up my and Annette’s bar tab. All opinions, as always, are my own.
This month my beautiful friend gave birth to the most perfect baby boy. Not only am I crazy about this kiddo, I’m an auntie for the first time ever! That, far and away, is the highlight of this past month.
It also made me feel even more grateful for my career and lifestyle. Most people who try to become travel bloggers are dreaming of the travel perks — “free” trips, getting paid to travel, unlimited vacation time. But for me, the best perks are being able to make my own hours and be there for my loved ones when they need a helping hand.
So when my friend found out she’d be having the baby sooner than expected and lamented that she had no time for maternity photos, I dropped everything to do a shoot with her and her husband (and their dog too!). I spent time with my friend while she was laboring, and I visited the morning after the baby was born. I even got to read him his first book! As soon as I recover from a tough bout of strep (more on that below), I plan to help her out during the week while everyone else is at work.
So yes, the travel perks are nice…but for me, getting to be there for my friend in her early days of motherhood is the greatest perk of self-employment.
Reading, Lynn, Lynnfield, and Burlington, Massachusetts
New York, New York
A rock star schedule in Massachusetts and New York. I had my friend’s baby shower in Massachusetts that ended at 4:30 PM and my sister’s 30th birthday party (how do I have a 30-year-old sister?!) later that evening in Manhattan. I made it work — I flew! I got there in time for Sarah to blow out the candles on her Dunkin Donuts cake, which is pretty much the most Bostonian thing ever.
Family time in Massachusetts. I tend to do a spring visit every year, and this time I got to spend Easter and my mom’s birthday with lots of different family members, which was nice. Also, there’s an Amazon Bookstore near my hometown now and that place is probably the most dangerous place I could go. ALL THE AMAZING BOOKS AT AMAZON PRICES.
I got to see Hamilton again! My friend Eric had an extra ticket to the show and he kindly offered it to me. What an amazing show. It was so interesting to see how the new cast interprets their roles — especially the humorous lines. Just think of all the ways you can say, “Everything is legal in New Jersey!”
Was it as good as the first time? I saw Hamilton with the original cast, went in mostly blind, and I was blown away in a million different directions. You can’t replicate that experience, though I still love the show as much as ever. And this time I found some new actors I adored — especially Michael Luwoye, who played Hamilton so spectacularly that I will fork over major cash to see him in literally anything (and if my dream comes true, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice or maybe the titular role in Macbeth) — and I gained an appreciation for things I overlooked the first time around.
(Also, we had dinner at Osteria Doge beforehand and it was outstanding. I thought there was no good dining in Times Square but I was dead wrong! If you’re going to a show, eat there. You’ll love it. Thumbs way up for the risotto Milanese.)
I learned to crochet. It’s been a long time since I learned a completely new skill! Being in Antarctica showed me how much I value time away from screens, so I decided to pick up a hobby that allows me to disconnect and clear my mind.
I took a few classes at Lion Brand Yarn Studio (I found them on Coursehorse — get $15 off your first Coursehorse class here). I feel like I took to it quickly — maybe I inherited some skills from my grandmother, who was amazing at anything involving yarn or thread. Unfortunately I missed the third and final class due to illness, but I hope to make it up next month. But that’s okay because YouTube is an absolute gold mine!! You can learn how to crochet all kinds of crazy things on YouTube! I’m already addicted. I can’t wait to share my creations with you.
A tour of uptown New York City. My friend Dani had an extra ticket (recurring theme this month?) and I joined her for an art and culture tour of Washington Heights and Central Harlem. It was nice getting to see some places in my neighborhood that I’d never visited, like Sylvain Terrace, one of the most unique streets in Manhattan. We also grabbed some soul food at Sylvia’s — I can’t believe I haven’t been there until now!
Some gorgeous spring days. I won’t lie, it’s been a rough April weather-wise (it snowed no fewer than three days in April!!), but there’s nothing more enjoyable than taking a long walk through Central Park on the first warm days of the year. It’s nothing short of divine.
And my old brownstone, my first New York home, has gone on sale.If you’re interested, it’s here. $2.7 million for a duplex with a backyard topped with two rentable one-bedroom units on one of the prettiest blocks in Hamilton Heights, which honestly is a steal by New York standards.
This month, I was the sickest I’ve been in years. Right after the baby was born, I got strep throat. Strep is something that I get every five to eight years or so and it always seems to come at the worst time. Usually I get diagnosed, start antibiotics, and feel better within a day and can go outside within two days. Not this time. I got a weird, antibiotic-resistant form of strep that would take its time to work through my system, and a viral infection on top of it as well.
So instead of being knocked down for two days, this time it knocked me out for more than a week. I didn’t leave my apartment for several days; I couldn’t focus enough to read or work; I was too weak to stand in the shower; I rotated between fever and chills every few hours; even swallowing water felt like razor blades down my throat. I’ve been sicker than that in my life, but I’ve never been that sick for that long.
I had a trip scheduled to Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, to profile a new hotel, but I had to cancel (and thankfully reschedule for two weeks later).
Worst of all, I had to stay away from the baby. I missed him so much!
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original Series - YouTube
What I Watched This Month
The Handmaid’s Tale is back and it’s as brutal as ever. I won’t give anything away, but it’s frightening and gorgeous and heartbreaking. I’m so glad only one episode comes out at a time; binge-watching this would turn me into a mess. As a Bostonian, this season is making my heart hurt — a number of pivotal scenes take place at Boston landmarks.
On a lighter note, I became slightly obsessed with Oh, Hello on Broadway, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll’s show where they play two crotchety old Upper West Siders, which is on Netflix. It’s weird and hilarious and you don’t want to know how many times I’ve watched it.
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness - What Makes a Cult a Cult? with Dr Natalie Feinblatt - YouTube
What I Listened To This Month
I’ll be honest — when I started watching the reboot of Queer Eye in February, I loved it but I found the long-haired Jonathan a bit grating. Well, my sister recommended his podcast to me, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. I was shocked — turns out I love this guy!
Each week, Jonathan invites an expert on a subject he’s curious about and they talk about it. Some of the subjects: cults (and they totally talk about how the Landmark Forum has cult-like qualities, which I found hilarious), the Armenian Genocide, how Los Angeles became a driving city, how Dave Holmes became a VJ (I’m a huge fan of Dave and vividly remember that VJ contest), the opioid crisis, psychedelics, and more.
This has become what I listen to when I crochet.
What I Read This Month
My reading slowed majorly down this month. Two reasons: crocheting ate into my reading time, and I spent a week too sick to read at all. I panicked when I got close to the end of the month and had only finished two quick books. Still, I rallied to finish five in the month, including books by authors from two new countries: Rwanda and Morocco. I’ve now read books by authors from nine new countries and am on track to hit my goal of 25 by the end of the year.
Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew (2018) — Mari Andrew became famous on Instagram for her sweet illustrations about navigating through life as a young adult. This book is a collection of new and already published illustrations, along with several essays, grouped into different sections about the experience of growing up.
I’m a big fan of Mari Andrew on Instagram, and I bought this book primarily to support an artist whose work I enjoy. That said, while the book is sweet, and some of the original illustrations are fantastic (especially the maps of different cities), I did not care for her essays, and it was the kind of book I would look through once and never again. I’ve often found that I don’t like when celebrities or media stars write long-form books. Shonda Rimes is better at TV writing, Luvvie Ajayi is better when not held to a list of topics, Mark Manson is better at one great essay every few months, Amy Schumer is better on stage. Still, I’m glad I supported an artist whose work I enjoy.
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) — After the success of Milk and Honey comes a sequel of Indian-Canadian author Kaur’s poetry. This time it’s divided into the following sections: Wilting, Falling, Rooting, Rising, Blooming.
I like her poetry. Some people deride it for being so simple, but I think she really nails the universal human experience. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
i can’t wrap my head around the fact
that i have to convince half the world’s population
my body is not their bed
i am busy learning the consequences of womanhood
when i should be learning science and math instead
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil (2018) — Since I’ve been trying to read books by authors from different countries, I’ve been picking whatever Book of the Month offerings come from international authors. This book tells the story of Clementine Wamariya, who fled Rwanda during the 1994 genocide at the age of six with her teenage sister Claire. They went on to migrate through refugee camps in several African countries before becoming eligible to immigrate to the United States. The memoir shifts between their journey through Africa and their new life in America.
I realized this month that so many books by African authors marketed toward US audiences are about war and genocide. There is so much more to Africa than that. That being said, I found this book to be an illuminating glimpse of what it is to be a refugee in Africa. Clementine’s sister Claire is the ultimate inspirational figure — she was a hustler every minute of every day, and it was her business sense, street smarts, and relationship-building that kept them alive and moving to better places over time. The book itself is a bit uneven — Clementine was so young when the massacre happened that her early memories are patchy (which is totally understandable) but those parts of the book are written rudimentarily with no depth to them. I wish there had been a bit more consistency, as the later parts of the book were much stronger.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (2018) — This month I was at Albertine, New York’s French bookstore, and I saw Moroccan-French author Leila Slimani was making an appearance. I picked up a copy of her latest novel, The Perfect Nanny (Chanson Douce in the original French). The book opens in Paris with two children dead at the hands of their nanny. From there it rewinds to the beginning, telling the story of everything leading up to their murders at the hands of a woman who appeared on the surface to be the greatest nanny of all time.
This isn’t a traditional book — it leaves so much to ambiguity, and I can see why many reviewers didn’t like it. I personally would have liked to have more of a conclusion, but it made me realize that not every book has to be what we’re used to. I’m doing this project to expand my views of literature and the world, and part of that is discovering new styles of literature. Overall, I found this novel to be a quick, sinister, and quite entertaining read. And because Slimani’s style is so spare and simple, I think I’m going to try to read one of her other books in French.
Interestingly, Slimani named the nanny Louise after Louise Woodward, a British nanny in the Boston area who was convicted of manslaughter in 1997 after the baby she took care of died from head trauma. That was the biggest news story in Boston when I was 13. But want to know something crazy? I went on Wikipedia and found out that Louise Woodward went on to become a Latin dance instructor in Chester, England. I went to Latin dance events in Chester, England. She was probably there.
The Oracle Year by Charles Soule (2018) — A struggling musician in New York suddenly hears predictions of the future in his head, and he decides to write them down. Then they start coming true. After putting his predictions on Reddit, then on a website, he becomes known worldwide as “The Oracle,” the wealthy pay him insane money for the exclusive rights to predictions, and he becomes an enemy of the US government. Soon he’s on the run.
Ever since seeing this listed on Book of the Month, I was excited to read it — but I found it better in theory than in practice. One user on Goodreads described this book as “dick lit,” which made me laugh because it’s so true. At the center of this book is this boring guy, yet everyone he meets is fascinated by him. Three different female characters hang on his every word and say, “Oh, Will.” Come on. That’s just lazy. Throw in some action sequences and implausible plots and you have a book that entertains but makes little sense. Overall, I’d rank this as a Dan Brown-type book: compelling, and I couldn’t put it down, but as a work of literature, it made me cringe endlessly. I’d recommend it if you’re up for some mindless entertainment and you can suspend disbelief a bit.
Coming Up in May 2018
I’m hitting the road hard this month. First up is the trip I had to reschedule — Chesapeake Bay, a lesser-known weekend getaway from New York City! I’ve barely been to Maryland and I’m excited to have a relaxing weekend at the brand-new Wylder Hotel on Tilghman Island.
In mid-May I’m going back to New Orleans, one of my favorite American destinations...
A day trip to Paris from London is the perfect addition to a trip to England! Thanks to the fast and efficient Eurostar train, it’s never been easier to visit Paris for a day.
Honestly, one day isn’t enough for Paris — ideally, you should spend as much time there as you can. But not everyone has lots of extra time to spend. So is it worth it if you only have one day to spare?
Absolutely — a day trip to Paris is always worth it. Even if all you have is one day, you can still make it the best day ever. But if you’re only visiting Paris for one day, it’s best to plan your trip carefully so that you get as much out of it as you can.
The Three Rules of a London to Paris Day Trip:1. Take the train.
The train is far and away the best way to visit Paris for a day. Eurostar trains depart from London’s St. Pancras station, arrive at Paris’s Gare du Nord, and take about two hours and 20 minutes each way. You go from the center of London to the center of Paris, plus the train journey is exceedingly pleasant.
The bus from London to Paris, by comparison, takes more than seven hours. Not worth it. Driving takes just under six hours if you don’t hit traffic.
You could fly from London to Paris, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a day trip. The flight only takes about one hour and 10 minutes, but you have to factor in getting to the airport 90 minutes before your flight, plus nearly all of the London airports and all Paris airports are located significantly outside the city and take a long time to get there.
(If you insist on flying to Paris for the day, I recommend either flying from London City Airport, which is centrally located though often very expensive, or flying from Heathrow and taking Heathrow Express from Paddington Station, which takes just 15 minutes.)
2. Be realistic about how much you can see in one day.
One day is not enough for Paris, nor is it enough for everything you will personally want to see in Paris. You can’t see the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay and go to the Eiffel Tower and climb the towers at Notre-Dame and walk around Montmartre and see the show at the Moulin Rouge. In fact, I wouldn’t advise visiting more than one museum on a day trip to Paris.
I encourage you to choose one or two activities that are absolute musts and to plan your day around them. Supplement your day with activities that are close to your main priorities.
For example, if seeing Notre-Dame is a priority, you can easily fit in nearby destinations like Saint-Chappelle, Île Saint-Louis, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and the Marais.
If you want to spend part of your day in Montmartre, visit the Sacré Coeur, take a long walk down Rue Lepic, see Amélie’s Café des Deux Moulins, and walk down to the Opéra before checking out the rooftop terrace at Galeries-Lafayette.
And if you absolutely must visit the Louvre, take time to wander the Tuileries Gardens, visit the Palais Royal, and grab a hot chocolate at Angelina before window-shopping at the jewelry shops of Place Vendôme.
3. Include downtime in your itinerary.
It’s easy to spend a Paris day trip going from attraction to attraction, but I think the magic of Paris is found in the in-between moments. Sitting in a cafe with a coffee or a glass of red wine. Wandering cheese and pastry shops. Crossing the Seine over and over again with no destination in mind.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get of the beaten path — just go to a new neighborhood and wander in whatever destination pleases you. I wrote a whole post about it.
What to Do on a Day Trip to Paris
I always tell people to travel to the destination that makes their pulse race. And that goes for Paris, too. Prioritize the things that make you excited — the things that are most important to you personally, not the things that you think you should do. If you’re not into art, you don’t have to go to any museums! You can have a great day in Paris without seeing the Mona Lisa.
If your favorite movie in high school was Moulin Rouge, go spend time walking around Montmartre.
If you love Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas, go to the Musée d’Orsay for the best collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the world.
If you’re a die-hard Doors fan, go see Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Beyond that, I think how you should explore Paris depends on your travel experience level. If you’re an experienced traveler, you can handle exploring by metro on your own. If you’d like something a bit easier, or if you or your companion have limited mobility, I recommend a hop-on-hop-off Paris bus tour. It takes you from attraction to attraction and lets Paris unfold in front of you.
Morning: Notre-Dame and vicinity. Arrive at Gare du Nord and transfer to the metro line 4 toward Mairie de Montrouge. Get off at Saint Michel Notre-Dame. Stop for a quick coffee if you’d like and head up to Notre-Dame. Visit the towers if you’d like for photos of the gargoyles. Next, walk east to Île Saint-Louis and wander the streets. If you’re feeling really indulgent, get an ice cream at Berthillon!
Head north toward the Hotel de Ville and explore the streets of the Marais, heading further upward. Stop by Pierre Hermé for macarons — they’re the best in the city. Just be sure to eat them the same day.
12:00 PM: Lunch at Breizh Cafe in the Marais. This restaurant is home to outstanding Brittany-style buckwheat galettes and sumptuous crepes. I usually get a galette with egg, cheese, and artichoke followed by a salted caramel crepe for dessert, along with their delicious cider. Make a reservation in advance if possible (it helps massively if you speak French); if you’re uncomfortable doing that, try showing up when they open at 12:00 PM.
Alternative lunch: walk up to Rue des Roisiers and wait in line at L’As du Falafel, one of the best cheap lunches in Paris. Order your falafel and walk a few streets away to Place des Vosges, where you can enjoy your falafel “sur l’herbe” or sitting on a bench.
Afternoon: Art and the Tower. Visit one of Paris’s world-class museums in the afternoon. Since you’re visiting Paris on a day trip and have limited time, I urge you to buy skip-the-line tickets in advance, and be sure to double-check which museums are open that day.
Finally: see the Eiffel Tower up close. How you see it depends on how much time you have. You can take a hop-on-hop-off Seine River cruise if you have time; I recommend taking the Metro Line 9 to Trocadéro for the most stunning surprise view of the tower when you turn the corner. From there you can take all the photos you want.
I do not recommend actually climbing the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because you won’t be able to see it in your photos! But if you insist, once again I recommend buying skip-the-line tickets due to your limited time. Make sure it includes the summit.
Instead, I recommend getting a good view from the nearby Arc de Triomphe. It’s a 20-minute metro ride on the 6 from Bir-Hakeim/Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel to Charles de Gaulle Étoile, five-minute cab ride, or 30-minute walk. Climb the Arc (once again…yep, skip-the-line tickets are best here) and enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower as well as down the Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde.
A cheaper alternative is to go to the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette department store in the 9th. It’s not quite as close as the Arc, but it’s free to visit with a fabulous view.
One hour before your train: arrive at Gare du Nord, preferably by metro. You have to go through immigration here, so it’s wise to arrive one hour before your departure.
Enjoy that train ride back to London, awash in your Paris memories. Now would be an excellent time to dive into those macarons you procured earlier.
Do’s and Don’t’s For a Day Trip to Paris from London
I’m not going to begrudge you for doing what you think is best for yourself, but here are some tips:
Do keep track of the time change. Paris is one hour ahead of London.
Do research opening times in advance. Especially so for museums. The Louvre and Centre Pompidou are closed Tuesdays, while the Musée d’Orsay and Musée Rodin are closed Mondays, to start.
Don’t leave central Paris. This tacks on a lot of time to what is already too short of a trip. Versailles, for example, is just outside Paris but can easily eat up half a day. That also goes for Chartres, Giverny, Reims, the Loire Valley, the beaches of Normandy, EuroDisney, and other day trips from Paris.
Don’t leave love locks anywhere. They’re damaging to structures and your lock will be removed anyway. Just enjoy the city of love without vandalizing it in the process.
Do bring a digital guidebook. Guidebooks aren’t dead — they’re actually super helpful. I recommend buying a digital copy of Lonely Planet Paris and keeping it on your phone for reference.
Don’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This may seem like shocking advice, but when you’re on top of the Eiffel Tower you can’t see the Eiffel Tower. It’s like going to the top of the Empire State Building in New York — the most iconic building will be missing from your photos. Definitely go to the base of the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero Gardens for the best views, but if you want a good view from a building, I recommend the top of the Arc de Triomphe (close proximity), the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette department store in the 9th (a bit further away), or the top of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre (furthest away but sweeping views over the whole city).
Do not, under any circumstances, forget an umbrella! Paris’s weather is similar to London’s, but only London gets the overcast weather fame. The weather changes quickly in Paris and rain can come out of nowhere, even on an otherwise sunny day. I’m a fan of the LifeTek travel umbrella, which is small enough to pack away but strong enough to hold its shape on a windy day.
What to Wear on a Day Trip to Paris
Parisians have a well-earned reputation for being among the best dressed in Europe. So what should you wear on a day trip to Paris?
It depends on the season, but my go-to outfit is a nice top or sweater, slim or skinny dark jeans, a faux leather moto jacket (this one from Zara is similar to mine) or sleek winter coat, a beautiful scarf or pashmina (Speakeasy Travel Supply makes gorgeous scarves with a secret hidden pocket — perfect for Paris!), and a pair of black flats with good arch support (I swear by black Abeo flats from the Walking Company). Top it off with tasteful makeup, nice jewelry, and a pair of dark sunglasses.
You might enjoy dressing up a bit, especially if it’s warmer out. Wearing a nice dress makes for better photos and could earn you more cordial treatment from locals or even get you mistaken for being local.
What not to wear: Shorts, sneakers, baseball caps, and t-shirts will immediately brand you as a foreigner anywhere in Europe, but especially so in Paris. I recommend leaving these items at home.
The following branded content post is brought to you by Skyhour. Once I learned about this new business and app, I thought it was a brilliant idea. And a giveaway for you, my lovely readers, to enjoy? Even better.
Imagine you have a friend who loves to travel, and they have a special occasion coming up: a milestone birthday, a wedding, a college graduation.
You want to give the gift of travel — but how? There’s luggage, but that still doesn’t reduce the cost of a trip. There’s booking a hotel stay, but booking a whole trip for someone else is a bit presumptuous. There are airline gift certificates, but those might not provide the best deal for your friend.
I’ve recently learned about a company with a very creative solution to this problem: Skyhour. With Skyhour you can purchase flights in the form of one-hour flying increments that can be redeemed on more than 350 domestic and international airlines!
Basically, it’s like the Venmo of air travel. You purchase and send with a click.
Even better is that you can use it like a registry. You can actually get a gift that you want for your birthday or a holiday instead of something well-intentioned that you’ll never use or wear. I loved the idea of Skyhour from the minute I heard about it.
The Best Occasions to Ask for Skyhours
I can think of lots of opportunities when giving skyhours would be a great option for a gift.
Honeymoon: So many newly married couples have been living together for awhile already that they don’t need another set of bowls. Enough skyhours could pay for the bulk of a honeymoon somewhere far away — or a shorter getaway within the country.
Graduation: Whether you know someone heading out on a gap year after college or looking to take a special trip after completing her Ph.D, Skyhour is a fantastic way to let the new graduate take the lead in booking the trip of her dreams.
Family Reunion: If you have a family member who might not be able to afford a flight to a family reunion, or perhaps to meet a newborn grandchild or niece or nephew, have several family members each chip in an hour as a gift. Six skyhours are enough to get someone from Florida to New England and back, for example.
Milestone Birthday: Recently I had a few friends turn 40 who have chosen not to marry or have kids — and thus have missed out on lots of gifts that their peers received (not unlike that Sex and the City episode where Carrie, after buying a friend nearly a dozen baby/wedding gifts over the years, has a pair of her Manolo Blahniks stolen from that friend’s house and decides to register for a new pair). Why not have several friends chip in skyhours in lieu of traditional gifts for the trip of a lifetime?
How to Buy Skyhours
Step One: Decide how many skyhours to give to your loved one. You choose the number of hours in flight. The cost is $60 per hour.
Step Two: Give your skyhours to your loved one. You can give them through the app, via SMS, or by email.
Step Three: Watch your loved one book their trip through the Skyhour App and enjoy the trip of a lifetime — made possible by you.
Giveaway for AK Readers: Get Skyhours!
Skyhour is giving away 10 skyhours to an Adventurous Kate reader! Here’s how you can win:
Step One: Follow @adventurouskate and @skyhour on Instagram.
Step Three: On the @adventurouskate Instagram post about Skyhour, comment about what your dream destination is and the number of Skyhours you’ll need to get there. Example: “I live in New York and my dream destination is Mexico City! I need 1o Skyhours to get there and back!”
The Prize: 10 Skyhours to use toward your trip, which have a value of $600.
This contest is open to residents age 18 and up of the United States — specifically the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Limited to one entry per Instagram and Skyhour account. See the full terms and conditions here.
Would you register for Skyhour for a special occasion? Or give Skyhours to a loved one? Share away!
There are so many moments that I want to share with you — I could go on forever. Instead, here’s a list of the absolute best moments on my trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. I hope you enjoy reading about them.
Image by Quark staff.
Hundreds of Porpoising Penguins
I was delighted to learn that penguins love to “porpoise.” They jump in and out of the water like dolphins, emerging to take a breath before diving down beneath the surface again. They often do it in groups. If you get lucky, you might see around 10 of them doing it at the same time!
Well, that’s what I thought was lucky until we got to Danco Island. We were kayaking through the smooth waters when all of a sudden, dozens of gentoo penguins began porpoising out of the water around us.
Were there ten? There were way more more than ten. Thirty? Fifty? At least one hundred. And they were heading straight for us! Closer and closer and closer and closer, and suddenly they were a meter away, and then suddenly they disappeared.
The water had turned still. “Where’d they go?” I murmured, half to myself.
About ten seconds later, they started porpoising again…away from the kayaks. I burst out laughing. It was as if they spotted the kayaks and abruptly turned around, saying, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, bad idea, BAD IDEA!”
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
Most Antarctic expeditions don’t go as far south as the Antarctic Circle. For that reason, the moment that you cross the Circle is always met with fanfare and champagne.
On our expedition, however, we were slated to cross the Circle at 2:00 AM. Would we be missing it? No way! At 1:45 AM, an announcement came over the intercom, waking us up. “We are just about to cross the Antarctic Circle. If you’d like to celebrate, come on up to Deck Six!”
I didn’t expect many people to get up in the middle of the night — but boy, was I surprised when I got on deck and saw it swarming with guests! Champagne was being served from behind the bar and people were taking pictures with signs.
It felt like New Year’s Eve. There was even a countdown! We shouted the numbers into the air and cheered, toasting the fact that we had gone further south than 99% of humans ever would.
Quiet Penguin Time in Danco Island
There was such a large chasm between what I thought my time in Antarctica would be and what it actually turned out to be. One example? Penguins! I thought I would be spending all my time contorted around rocks, camera on my right eye, squinting the left side shut. But I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought I would, in part because it was so tough to shoot while kayaking.
That wasn’t the only reason, though. Antarctica taught me to step back and appreciate the moments for what they were. Instead of maniacally trying to TAKE TAKE TAKE everything I could, to greedily consume it and use it to make me rich and famous, I decided to settle down and accept Antarctica’s offerings with an open heart.
Which made my time in Danco Island all the more special. I didn’t have much time here; we kayakers often had mini-landings rather than full length ones. I had to use it wisely.
I took a few perfunctory photos, including the one above (Caption: “Oh man, Ron thinks he’s Jesus again.”), then settled down on a rock to watch the adolescents play in the water.
And I just stayed.
I watched them play, and preen, and tease each other. Penguins really are some of the most entertaining animals to watch! I smiled and giggled. Soon enough, my time was up and it was time to get back on board. But was that time wasted? Not whatsoever.
The Polar Plunge
The Polar Plunge is one of the most exciting things you can do in Antarctica. What better way to be one with the environment than to jump into near-freezing water? What better badge of badassery?!
I knew from the beginning that I was going to do the Polar Plunge. But the idea of doing the plunge and the reality of getting ready to do it are two VERY different things. I was relieved that we would be getting it over with on our first day, south of the Antarctic Circle on Stonington Island, but then I began to second-guess whether I should even do it after all.
I changed into my bathing suit, threw my bathrobe on top, got in the long line winding down the staircase — and started FREAKING THE FUCK OUT. I couldn’t stop shaking.
Growing up, I loved to swim — but I would always take a very long time to get in. Always the last one in, eternally the last one out. What made me think I could handle 32F/0C Antarctic waters?!
I continued to tremble as I tossed my robe on the ground and walked outside onto the gangway in my bathing suit. Two of us could go down at a time. Our expedition leader Woody and our biologist Ema waited at the bottom of the stairs in full winter gear, huge smiles on their faces. I watched a gentleman jump in and climb out with little fanfare.
It was time.
I got the rope tied around my waist, smiled and waved to the camera, then jumped straight ahead.
SPLASH. I was submerged in the icy water. Needles on every part of my body, aches throbbing deep in my limbs.
“JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS!” I sputtered as I surfaced, climbing up the ladder at record speed. (Why did I say that of all things?! I have no idea.) Everyone was laughing.
I have to say that ordinarily I would never post a photo like the one above. I look terrible, my belly’s poking out, and for the first time in my life I didn’t put on a big smile for the camera. But I don’t care. None of that matters. It doesn’t matter how I looked, it matters that I did it!
(My friend Kirsty was in line after me and told me later, “Kate, I’m so glad you went before me — you made me laugh so hard I forgot to be nervous!”)
Altogether, 87 out of our 200 passengers did the plunge. Most of the rest watched from Deck Five and got thoroughly ribbed for not participating themselves.
Cruising Through Lemaire Channel
Lemaire Channel is notoriously difficult to pass — our crew told us that we were the first ship all season that had been able to pass through. (However, take this with a grain of salt. One of my readers told me her ship also passed through Lemaire Channel this year; perhaps they meant they were the only ship on Quark’s fleet to pass through.)
“You’ll want to come outside and see this,” our expedition leader Woody announced over the intercom. It had only been a few days, but I already knew that when Woody tells you to something is worth seeing, you better get out on deck as quickly as possible.
Unlike other sightings, though, this lasted a long time. We slinked through the passage, Captain Oleg expertly navigating us around the ice. Our ship was surrounded by exquisite mountains, intimidating glaciers, even things I never dreamed possible — like a waterfall of gently falling snow.
The channel finally ended with some bright blue sky peeking out. At this point on the trip, it had been the first blue sky we had seen.
Without a doubt, Lemaire Channel was the most scenic part of the trip, though Antarctica is one of those places that seems to keep outdoing itself again and again.
Image by Quark staff.
A Whale’s Extreme Close-Up
Wilhelmina Bay was immense in size and strewn with icebergs. But after we got into our kayaks, we realized what made this part of Antarctica special, at least on the day of our visit: an abundance of humpback whales.
Zodiacs cruises are like safaris. If there’s a good wildlife sighting around, the driver radios the other boats and tells them to come see it. Throughout Antarctica you would see the zodiacs all converge upon the same point to watch a breeching whale, or a group of seals, or some cartoon-like Adelie penguins.
But in Wilhelmina Bay, it seemed like every zodiac had its own pod of whales to watch. They were everywhere! And even though we kayakers didn’t have the ability to speed up to them like the zodiacs, we had plenty of them get close to us.
Then one got a little TOO close.
All of a sudden, a humpback whale rose in front of our kayaks. This wasn’t the “logging” where they gently rise and fall while sleeping — this whale knew exactly what he was doing. Slowly emerging, rising from the water, higher and higher.
We gasped. It was so close. Was it going to flop on us?!
It happened so quickly, I didn’t get a chance to take a photo. (That sentence is the Antarctica experience in a nutshell!) Thankfully there were zodiacs on the other side, getting shots of what we later dubbed, “The moment the drysuits became not so dry.”
“I’m always surprised at what we see, but I’m not often impressed,” our kayaking guide Michael told us. “The only thing better than THAT would have been, like, if an orca jumped out of the water right over the kayaks.”
“Yeah, and if Michael Jackson started singing!” I added.
(Only the thirty-somethings laughed. Free Willy forever!)
Carl Gets Crazy
I didn’t have any bad moments in Antarctica, but the only excursion that was a bit lackluster was our morning at Graham Passage. It was raining, waves were rising, and this was one of few times that kayaking was cancelled due to inclement weather.
While zipping around on zodiacs was fun, and there were a few whales here and there, it was cold and wet and we didn’t see much wildlife. But don’t worry — we had Carl for entertainment.
In most parts of the world I’ve explored, you’ll often find an older American man, often from the South, a vagabond with long gray hair, with or without baldness on top; a man who has backpacked most continents over the course of several decades, the kind of man who has had an audience with the Dalai Lama, followed the Grateful Dead on tour, and cheated death multiple times.
Carl was that guy on our trip — the guy who had been to Everest Base Camp multiple times, the only guy on board who was leaving via bus, not plane, to explore Patagonia next. He kindly took a few photos of me with the penguins on Cuverville Island. And on the day in Graham Passage he was in my zodiac.
Suddenly our driver got a notice on her radio. There was a whale sighting nearby — a big humpback. She immediately gunned the engine. Literally everyone on board cowered at the sudden speed, shielding ourselves from the rain as the bow of the zodiac rose in the air, speeding to the other side of the passage. We clenched the ropes, trying to keep ourselves from toppling out of the boat.
“HA HA HA HA HA!” I looked up and I saw Carl grinning, a wild look in his eyes. Everyone was holding on for dear life, protecting their cameras, and turning their faces away from the rain.
But not Carl. Carl had gone full mad scientist, laughing hysterically in the wind, and the fact that the rain had brought everyone else to our knees somehow made that even better.
A Primal Scream in Paradise Harbour
Being on expedition means your itinerary can change anytime — you never know when a region will have too much ice for the ship to pass through safely, or if there won’t be enough space on shore to do a landing. One of those days was when our excursion to Neko Harbour got axed due to ice. We would visit nearby Paradise Harbour instead.
But what a fortuitous circumstance that was! Paradise Harbour was one of my favorite stops of the trip. The water was nearly as smooth as glass. The water was the same color and texture as the sky, and the two edges melded together so closely that it was hard to tell where land ended and air began. (Whenever I see this, it reminds me of Lake Ohrid in Macedonia.)
It was home to a former Argentine station, Brown Station, and it was the only place where I set foot on continental Antarctica, as opposed to various Antarctic islands. (The guides take these semantics very seriously. Some have a problem with the fact that the Antarctica Marathon is held on King George Island — “But it’s just an island, it’s not on the continent!”)
The water was soft and velvety. I paddled through the gray-blue seascape, letting the vast emptiness fill my mind, the only sounds gentle splashes and thunder-like glaciers calving in the distance. More than anything, I wanted to paddle up to the glaciers and see just how tall they were, but that was far too dangerous.
We paddled toward a tall stone cliff. Since this wasn’t a glacier, we could get much closer. Soon we realized that all of the noises around us were echoing. It was a natural amphitheater.
Our guide Michael had a gleam in his eye. “This seems like a great place for a primal scream.”
And we SCREAMED. I led the descant on the highest of A-flats; my fellow kayakers roared in timbres of every color. That release of energy, combined with the peaceful environment, was like wiping my soul clean.
The Last Supper
I’m fairly certain this was the first time we all got to the dining room before the doors opened for dinner. But this was our final dinner! We had to make sure we got a table together, and with our favorite servers, too.
Was this “my group” on the trip? Kind of. One thing I’ve noticed over the years, even when I was sixteen, is that when on group trips, I always flit around with different groups of people. It seems like most people find a few people they like and stick together the whole time, but that honestly has never been the case with me.
I didn’t always sit with this group, but I liked them a lot. We were from the US, Brazil, Britain and Australia. We ranged from twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings and beyond. We were traveling solo, with our partner, with our parent or child. All of us were laughing uproariously and retelling our favorite gossipy stories over the past week, having more than a few glasses of the complimentary wine.
Was there gossip? OF COURSE there was gossip! We were on a ship with 200 passengers for 12 days! And believe it or not, the majority of the gossip was about people over 50! And since this was the last supper, it was our last chance to tell all of the stories.
YOU GUYS, I WANT TO WRITE WHAT HAPPENED SO BAD!!! IT IS BEYOND JUICY!!!!! But this is not the place for it. Let’s just say that if I ever write fiction taking place on an Antarctica expedition, some of the characters are going to be ripped from the headlines, Law and Order-style.
Planning a trip to Croatia? I wish I were joining you! It’s hard to pick a favorite country when you travel as much as I do, but I can’t lie — if I had to choose, it would probably be Croatia.
I first wanted to visit Croatia after seeing photos of its beautiful beaches, but after visiting for the first time in 2012, I fell in love. What I love about Croatia is that it combines outstanding natural beauty, like bright green saltwater lakes, cliffs reaching down into the sea, and islands surrounded by clear water, with outstanding human-made beauty, like bright white limestone towns, ancient fortresses, and pastel-painted seaside towns. Croatia is a feast for your eyes.
Croatia is a diverse destination and has something for everyone. If you’re into history and want to visit all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you can do that. If you want to get off the beaten path and hike and climb mountains, you can do that. If you want to drive around visiting quirky little villages, you can do that. If you want to pick a resort and sit on the beach every day, you can do that. If you want to rent a sailboat and party every day for a week street, you can absolutely do that!
And while I wouldn’t label Croatia as a cheap country, you can get a lot of value for money here, especially if you go off the beaten path to destinations more popular with Balkan travelers (like Makarska as opposed to Hvar).
But most of all, the message I want to share is that Croatia is such an easy place to travel. In fact, while I usually recommend English-speaking or Nordic countries for a first trip to Europe, I think Croatia would be a smart choice as well — and with much warmer weather, too!
I think every kind of traveler can fall in love with Croatia a little bit. Here are 100 travel tips for Croatia — and I hope they inspire you to plan a trip soon.
Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships. This surprisingly moving museum is filled with artifacts from relationships that have ended, accompanied by a story about the item written by owner. The stories are sad, sweet, funny, and moving. This is probably the most special attraction in all of Croatia and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Stroll through the Upper Town. The Upper Town is Zagreb’s Old Town, and it’s home to famous historic buildings like St. Mark’s Church (pictured above), Lotrscak Tower, and Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well asthe Dolac fruit and vegetable market. Explore on your own or take a walking tour.
Zagreb is home to some wonderful coffeeshops.Cogito is one of the best and they create their own blend from beans that they important from around the world. Many cafes in the city use their beans, including 42 and Co, which has cool industrial decor. If you love to read, Booksa is a bookstore with a cafe where they encourage you to read and sip. And Kino Europa Cafe is a quirky cafe that wears many hats — part coffeeshop, part cinema, and part grapperia (yes, a place that specializes in grappa).
Learn to cook Croatian food. Cooking lessons are a souvenir that you get to take home to your family and friends. Why not learn to cook a few Croatian dishes to share your trip with your loved ones? Some tours include a market visit, too.
Go on a gamified quest within the city.Secret Zagreb offers some quirky puzzle-oriented tours: a witch hunt, a sleeping dragon quest, a mountain quest, and a Christmas carol quest! Definitely a fun twist on a typical walking tour.
Go on a day trip or half day trip to Samobor. Just a short drive from Zagreb is this small town, known for its traditional crafts, delicious desserts, and a ruined castle that you can explore. Whatever you do, be sure to try a kremšnita — a cream cake layered with puff pastry.
Explore Zagreb’s many parks and Lenuci’s Horseshoe. Lenuci’s Horseshoe is a collection of beautifully landscaped squares that form the shape of a U. It’s a nice place to stroll from end to end.
If you want a real evening adventure, go on a night truffle hunt outside Zagreb. You hunt for truffles with dogs! Truffle hunting is always fun and fascinating, but night makes it even better.
The Christmas season is a fantastic time to visit Zagreb. Christmas markets are all over the city, selling crafts, hot mulled wine, and delicious pastries. And unlike countries like Germany, Zagreb’s markets stay open longer — all the way until January 7th!
Istria Travel Tips
Istria is the most Italian part of Croatia. You’ll think of Liguria when you see pastel seaside towns like Rovinj; you’ll swear you’re in southern Tuscany when you see hill towns like Motovun.
The true pleasure of Istria is visiting the villages that dot the countryside. For that reason, you’re best off renting a car so you’re not held to public transportation schedules. The food is similar to northern Italian cuisine and you’ll be forever distracted by wineries and truffle shops.
Rovinj is one of the most lovely towns in Istria. You could argue that this is the most Italian town of all, painted bright colors and filled with cafes where locals sip espresso. This is the beauty, the historical town, and the one place you should absolutely visit while in Istria.
Don’t knock Pula — it’s more than just an airport. This Istrian city is home to Roman ruins, including an enormous amphitheater, photo galleries, and the excellent Jupiter Pizzeria. If you’re planning to explore Istria by car, parking may be easier and cheaper in Pula than Rovinj.
Motovun is a hill town that looks like it’s out of a Dr. Seuss book. Motovun is perched on top of a hill in an otherwise flat landscape. It looks magical. And it’s full of paragliders and you can join them for a spin! What better place could there be to jump off with a parachute behind you? See more on paragliding here.
Kamenjak, located at the point of Istria’s heart, is a top beach destination in Istria. This peninsula has a rugged coastline and tons of beaches, though most of them are rocky slabs. It looks completely undeveloped when you first see it, but be sure to hit up the Safari Bar for a beverage, a swing, and a climb up the treehouse!
Bale is a beautiful town to visit on the way to Rovinj. The winding streets here could be out of Umbria or Emilia-Romagna. One of the unique businesses is Kamene Priče, a bar and cafe that puts on unusual performances.
Groznjan is a tiny hill town with a twist — it has a summer music school! You’ll hear students practicing all kinds of instruments if you visit in July or August. Even without the music, it’s a beautiful town with lovely views. Hit up Kaya Energy Bar and Design for a coffee and a slice of cake.
The town of Labin is perched on a hill that swiftly lowers to the sea. It has a beautiful skyline, one of the best in Istria, and the buildings are painted a million different colors.
Hum, in Istria, claims to be the smallest town in the world. Many place in the world dispute that assertion, but it’s a fun and kitschy place to stop for a coffee on the way out of Istria.
Istria is full of wineries, particularly in the western half of the region. I recommend Trapan in Šišan, near Pula; some others are Kozlović, Roxanich, and Rossi.
One full day is the perfect amount of time for the Plitvice Lakes (or for Krka National Park). You don’t need any more time than that unless you’re a serious photographer looking for particular shots. (And if you are, know that it will be difficult with the crowds.)
If you’re looking to swim in front of waterfalls, Krka National Park is the place to do it! Unlike the Plitvice Lakes, where signs are warning you not to go in, you can go swimming in the lake at Krka. The only rule is to keep a bit of distance from the waterfalls.
Paklenica National Park is a fantastic destination for rock climbing and it’s close to the Dalmatian coast. Even if you’re not into climbing, there are some terrific hiking trails. It’s a short drive from Zadar.
Slavonia, the northeast part of Croatia between Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia, is the ultimate off-the-beaten-path destination. You can dive into the forests in Papuk, UNESCO’s only geopark in Croatia, and if you’re a bird-watcher, the wetlands of Kopački rit are rich in wildlife. Use the riverside city of Osijek for a base.
Most of Croatia’s beaches are rocky, not sandy. This can take the form of pebbles or giant slabs. Be prepared — you may want to bring a padded beach mat/chair hybrid.
Croatia is one of the most naturalist-friendly countries in Europe. Many beaches in Croatia have a clothing-optional section; if not, topless sunbathing is accepted and common.
Zadar is a marvelous city and my personal favorite destination in Croatia. This seaside enclave has the perfect combination of natural beauty, culture, quirks, and delicious food. It definitely gets tourists but it’s not a tourist takeover like Dubrovnik. Most special are the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation — two pieces of art the community can enjoy, one auditory, one visual. And Alfred Hitchcock once declared that Zadar had the world’s best sunsets.
Know what Split is and isn’t. Split is a beautiful city and attracts a lot of holidaymakers looking for sun — but it’s not a beach town. The beaches are a considerable distance away. I think the perfect time to spend in Split is one or two days, unless you’re using it as a base for day trips around the region.
Makarska is a cheaper beach destination that provides value for money. Makarska tends to be more popular with domestic and Balkan tourists; it’s not heavily marketed otherwise. You’ll find a lovely stretch of beach, some nice local restaurants, and accommodation for far less than what you’d pay on the islands.
Hvar is known as the party island, but that’s not all it has to offer. Hvar’s clubs heat up in late June, July, and August — there isn’t much of a scene even in the shoulder season. You can also explore the pretty old town, go wine tasting, or hire a scooter and see as much of the island as possible. (Hvar is one of the larger islands in Dalmatia, so if you’re going to rent a scooter somewhere, this is a good place.)
The island of Brač is home to one of Croatia’s most famous beach. Zlatni Rat is often referred to as the best beach in Croatia. Unlike most Croatian beaches, it’s made of soft sand! It sticks out into the ocean like a point and its unusual shape makes it popular with drone photographers.
Pučišća is an almost unbearably picturesque village on the island of Brač. All the buildings are made of blinding white limestone, surrounding a pale turquoise bay. Very few tourists make it here — enjoy that!
The tiny island of Vis is home to a blue grotto. When the sun is at the perfect intensity, the cave glows bright blue. Vis doesn’t appear on a lot of tourist itineraries, so enjoy the peace and quiet!
Korčula island claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. Not all historians agree on that (though Korčula was once part of Venice), but the island has pretty beaches and a charming old town. Don’t miss Massimo Cocktail Bar, where you climb a ladder into one of the towers of the city walls. Get there before sunset for a good seat.
The island of Mljet is home to bright green saltwater lakes. If you’ve never gone swimming in a saltwater lake before, this is a beautiful place to do it. And your photos will be amazing. If you’re not visiting Mljet on a sailing trip, visit as a day trip from Dubrovnik.
When driving down the coast, you’ll need to go through border control twice. There is a tiny sliver of Bosnia that touches the coastline — the town of Neum. Because of this, the southeasternmost part of Croatia, which includes Dubrovnik, is cut off from the mainland. Don’t worry; tourists cross this border every day and your passport won’t be stamped, just checked.
And if you want to party across Croatia’s islands, the biggest party of all is The Yacht Week. Rent a sailboat with a group of likeminded people and sail from island to island and party to party. Despite its name, it takes place for several weeks from June through September.
Dubrovnik Travel Tips
Many people find Dubrovnik’s Old City to be overwhelmingly busy. Most Old City residents rent their homes out in summer, so it’s almost entirely tourists. If you are visiting during the summer months, I recommend staying out of the Old City until sunset or so, when the cruise ship tourists leave and the streets empty out.
Walk the walls of the city. The views are outstanding and your photos will be fantastic, but this can be uncomfortably hot if you do it in the middle of the day. I recommend doing so as late as possible, for both heat and photography reasons, so double-check their closing time.
Go on a Game of Thrones tour. Dubrovnik has served as the filming location for King’s Landing throughout the series, and going on a Game of Thrones tour will show you where scenes were filmed, complete with screenshots from the show for comparison.
Cafe Buža is a cafe with two locations built into the outer city walls, just steps from the water. You can order a coffee here and then go swimming! While these cafes aren’t unknown, it feels like you’ve stumbled upon a secret.
The best ice cream in Dubrovnik is at Slastičarnica Dolce Vita. Be sure to try their signature bitter orange flavor — they recommend pairing it with chocolate.
One of the best places to take photos at golden hour is Lovrijenac, aka St. Lawrence’s Fortress. The views of the walled city are astounding from this angle.
D’vino Wine Bar is a great place to spend an evening while trying Croatian wines. Affable owner Sasha will be happy to help you find the perfect local wine for you.
My personal favorite hotel in Dubrovnik is the Hotel Excelsior. It has perhaps the best location possible in Dubrovnik — technically outside the Old City but close enough for it to be a short walk. While it has its own pool and private beach (both with incredible views), City Beach is close by as well.
If you’re on a budget in Dubrovnik, Fresh Sheets is a lovely hostel with both dorms and private rooms in the heart of the Old City. I think this is among the best value places to stay in the country.
Where are the best neighborhoods and hotels to stay in Boston? I’ve got you covered! Boston is a fantastic city with rich history, beautiful parks, and some of America’s best museums.
I grew up in the Boston area and spent several years living in the city as an adult. I may not live there full-time anymore, but I go back to visit Boston and I always keep an eye on what’s going on in the city. And that includes its hotel scene.
Boston is a city with many sides, and I feel like most tourists only get to see one or two sides. Boston is most definitely a sports town, where the city lives and dies by the Red Sox and Patriots and every bar has “the game” on. It’s home to incredible Revolutionary War history. It’s an intellectual city, home to universities like Harvard and MIT, hundreds more colleges, and enough libraries and museums to keep you stimulated.
The architecture spans a variety of styles that somehow work together (with the exception of city hall). It’s cold and snowy in the winter, hot and humid in the summer. And that accent very much exists, though nobody in Hollywood can pull off a passable Boston accent, even after months of coaching.
Lots of people visit Boston on business and leave thinking that the city is nothing but gray skyscrapers. Well, that’s the feeling you’ll get if you don’t get out of downtown! You could be staying in a neighborhood lined with Victorian homes, stately brownstones, or tight-packed red brick buildings with fire escapes running up and down them.
My top picks of neighborhoods vary enormously; where you should stay in Boston depends on what you’re looking for in a trip. You’ve got an Italian neighborhood close to historic sites, a suburb on the western edge with cool businesses and Tudor architecture, and a neighborhood so brand new that most longtime residents barely recognize it.
Here are my recommendations for the best neighborhoods to stay in Boston.
Best Boston Neighborhood Overall: Back Bay
If you can stay in any neighborhood in Boston, my top recommendation is Back Bay. This neighborhood is pretty much the dead center of Boston; you’re never far from anything. Back Bay is home to some of the priciest (and most beautiful) real estate in town, as well as some of the best shopping. And you’re steps from Boston’s top sights, like the Boston Public Library and the Public Garden, as well as the Boston Marathon finish line at Copley Square.
Newbury Street is home to luxury shops and indie boutiques as well as plenty of sidewalk cafes. On a warm day in Boston, this is one of the best places to dine outside. One of my favorite streets in Boston is Back Bay’s Marlborough Street, filled with beautiful brownstones (and exactly zero tourists). And if you’re set on shopping, Boylston St., the shops at the Prudential, and Copley Plaza are home to all the big brands.
To the north of Back Bay is the Esplanade, where you can run, picnic, or catch a summer concert at the Hatchshell. And you’re still within walking distance of the Theatre District, the restaurants and bars of Tremont Street, and the art museums of Fenway.
The neighborhood of Back Bay borders the South End, Fenway, the Theatre District, and the Public Garden with easy access to Beacon Hill. The green line has several stops here (Arlington, Copley, Hynes Convention Center, Prudential) and the 1 bus gives you the fastest way to Cambridge.
Best Boston Neighborhood for History Lovers: The North End
Boston is filled with history, especially pertaining to the American Revolution. The Freedom Trail is one of America’s best historic trails, taking you from Boston Common to the Charlestown Navy Yard, hitting dozens of places of historical importance along the way, like the Boston Massacre Site, Faneuil Hall, and Paul Revere’s house. While lots of neighborhoods are adjacent to the Freedom Trail, I recommend the North End because it’s one of the oldest and prettiest residential neighborhoods in Boston.
The North End is also Boston’s traditionally Italian neighborhood. You’ll find plenty of Italian shops and restaurants, plus longtime residents who speak primarily Italian with each other. Some of my top recommendations: Mamma Maria for the best fine Italian dining, Giacomo’s (be prepared to wait in line) for the best casual Italian dining, Caffe Vittoria for cappuccino, and Modern Pastry (NOT the popular yet inferior Mike’s across the street) for cannolis and pastries.
The North End borders downtown Boston, the Financial District, and the West End, putting it fairly close to the historic heart of Boston. Get here via the orange line (North Station, Haymarket, State St.), blue line (State St.), or green line (North Station, Haymarket).
Best Boston Neighborhood for Foodies: The South End
There’s no ambiguity on this one — everyone agrees that the South End is the best foodie neighborhood in all of Boston. Located just south of Back Bay, this is one of Boston’s best residential neighborhoods with beautiful brownstones, boutique hotels, quirky shops you won’t find anywhere else, a thriving LGBT community, and the best restaurants in the city.
One of the pleasures of staying in the South End is feeling like a local. There aren’t many obvious tourist destinations here, so most tourists don’t even step within its borders.
If you’re a foodie in the least, be sure to visit at least one of Ken Oringer’s restaurants. The man IS Boston fine dining. Two of my favorites of his are in the South End: Coppa, an Italian wine bar with a crazy selection of unusual meats, and Toro, a Spanish tapas restaurant with the best corn in existence (order the corn when you arrive just in case it sells out; you’ll thank me later).
The South End borders Back Bay, the Theatre District, and Roxbury, with a highway running along the bottom of it. Get here via the orange line (Tufts Medical Center, Back Bay/South End) or silver line (many stops along Tremont St.).
Best Boston Neighborhood for a Smaller-Town Feel: Brookline
If you enjoy small cities or suburbs more than big cities, Brookline is the perfect place for you to stay in Boston. Brookline is technically a different city than Boston, but it’s surrounded by Boston on nearly all sides, making it feel like it’s part of the city. Accommodation in Brookline can often be cheaper than what you’d pay for a similar hotel in downtown Boston.
Coolidge Corner is one of the best parts of Brookline, home to beloved independent businesses like the Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline Booksmith, Eureka Puzzles, and When Pigs Fly Bakery. Brookline is also home to a big Jewish community, so if you keep kosher, this is a good place to base. And if you love to take walks, Brookline has lots of curvy streets filled with large, beautiful homes.
Brookline has student-heavy neighborhoods Allston and Brighton to the north, Fenway to the east, Newton to the west, and Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury to the south. Get here on the B, C, or D green lines. The C line goes to Coolidge Corner.
Best Boston Neighborhood for Sports Fans: Fenway/Kenmore
Boston is a city that lives and breathes based on what the Red Sox are doing! Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in America, and even if you’re not a Boston sports fan, it’s worth visiting for the cultural experience. Ideally, you should go to a game (and sing along with “Sweet Caroline” during the seventh inning stretch), but there are tours of the park year-round. Kenmore Square is located adjacent to the Fenway neighborhood and as such, Fenway/Kenmore is often referred to as a single neighborhood.
This is the best neighborhood for sports fans because not only is it home to Fenway, it’s home to some of the best sports bars in the city. Even if you’re not going to a Red Sox game, you can always enjoy the atmosphere on Landsdowne Street and Yawkey Way or get drinks at the Bleacher Bar, which is practically on the field at Fenway but open to non-ticket-holders.
Fenway is also a cultural neighborhood — it’s home to several colleges and universities like Northeastern University, Berklee College of Music, Emmanuel College, Simmons College, and the edge of Boston University. Some of the best museums are here, like the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays in the neighborhood too. Add the beautiful gardens of the Back Bay Fens, part of the city’s Emerald Necklace of parks, and this neighborhood might just have it all.
Fenway and Kenmore border Back Bay, the South End, Roxbury, Mission Hill, and Brookline. The Kenmore stop is where most of the green lines split; there’s orange line access at Mass. Ave. and Ruggles.
Best for Hipsters and Intellectuals: Harvard Square, Cambridge
Cambridge is technically a separate city from Boston, but you’d never know — it’s located right across the river and it’s got just as much public transportation. Cambridge neighborhoods vary quite a bit, but I overall recommend Harvard Square. Not only is it at Harvard’s doorstep, but it gives you access to the kinds of businesses that students and faculty love: the enormous COOP bookstore, interesting museums, theater productions big and small, a fun bar and restaurant scene (you can’t miss the politically named burgers at Mr. Bartley’s), running and walking trails along the Charles River, and easy access to Boston via the red line.
Harvard Square’s hip days have passed, but it’s a central spot for accessing the hip local parts of Cambridge and next-door Somerville like Central Square, Inman Square, Union Square, and Davis Square. Good luck finding tourists in any of these neighborhoods! Instead you’ll be rewarded by cool shops, excellent coffee, and perhaps Boston’s least sporty enclaves.
Harvard Square is between Central Square and Porter Square with Inman Square close by. Get here on the red line at Harvard to take the #1 bus.
If you’ve been to Boston before and want to see something new, I suggest the Seaport, also known as the South Boston waterfront. Over the past five years, this waterfront has gone from mostly offices and parking lots to becoming one of the hottest neighborhoods in town. It’s completely unrecognizable from when I worked there a decade ago! All we had back then was the unmarked (though legitimately awesome) Lucky’s Lounge. For that reason, if you’ve been to Boston before, this is a chance to experience something completely different.
The Institute of Contemporary Art has always been a hallmark of the neighborhood, but now there are art installations and galleries throughout the neighborhood. You can visit shops like the first L.L. Bean in an urban area,..
Is it safe for a woman to travel to New York alone? Absolutely. And I would know: I’m a travel writer specializing in solo female travel who lives in New York City. Since moving here, dozens if not hundreds of women have asked me the same question: I want to visit New York, but is it safe if I go alone?
I believe that with the proper research and preparation, almost anywhere in the world can be safely traveled by a woman on her own. And that goes for New York, too. Millions of women from around the world call New York their home; millions more women visit each year, many of them solo. That wouldn’t be the case if it were too dangerous for women on their own.
New York is fantastic for other reasons, too. It’s a city built for the solitary person. So many people are jammed up against each other in New York that it’s common for residents to seek solitude outside their homes, not inside them. The city reflects this. There are activities for all kinds of people to enjoy on their own, and it’s not considered unusual to do activities alone or go out to eat alone.
Whether you want to spend time on your own or meet cool people, whether you want to browse quirky museums or take the hardest fitness class in the city, whether you’re on a budget or the sky’s the financial limit, New York has something for every solo female traveler.
Welcome. We’re glad to have you.How to Use This Guide
This 5000+ word guide is a comprehensive resource for solo female travel in New York City. And any woman who has traveled solo knows that safety is only one aspect of your trip. Other important things are knowing what activities are good to do as a solo traveler, picking restaurants and hotels that are welcoming to solo travelers, and learning how you can meet people if you want to.
New York today is much safer than it used to be in the 90s, the 80s, and beforehand. The New York of today is not the New York of Taxi Driver, or RENT, or Home Alone 2, or even Sex and the City.
The New York of today has far less crime than it used to, is far cleaner than before, and is much more expensive than ever before. It’s a place where some people making six figures are considered middle class. Nearly all of Manhattan and the “cool parts” of Brooklyn are so sanitized, the safety is on par with a theme park.
Over the years I’ve found that people tend to associate destinations with their 90s conflicts. Mention that you’re going to Cambodia, or Bosnia, or South Africa, and people will often react like Pol Pot is still alive, Serbian bombs are falling, and Apartheid ended yesterday. That’s not the case. Each of these countries has changed enormously since the 1990s and, with proper research and preparation, is safe to travel today.
This is true for New York as well. Case in point? In the episode of Friends where Frank Jr. first visits Phoebe in New York, filmed in 1996, Frank says, “Yeah, I was thinking that maybe we could go down to Times Square and pick up some ninja stars. And, oh, um, my friend Larry, he wants me to take a picture of a hooker.”
That makes me laugh. Today Times Square is one of the most touristy places in the city. It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago (yes, the 90s were 20 years ago!) it was where you went for drugs and ambiguously legal weapons. Today it’s where families go to get photos with Elmo.
I’ve been to 74 countries and 7 continents and I consider New York one of the safest cities in America and among the safest cities in the world. New York may not be quite as safe as Reykjavik or Tokyo, where you can leave your purse on a bench and nobody will touch it, but it’s certainly safer than Paris or Barcelona, where you have to constantly be on guard for pickpockets.
Safety Tips for New York
Most of staying safe comes down to common sense. Be aware of your surroundings; keep an eye on your property; don’t get bogged down in your phone screen.
Be vigilant when in crowded areas. This especially goes for busy subways, crowds watching a street performer, and touristy areas like Times Square and the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Keep your belongings close to you; have your purse in front of you (ideally a cross-body purse that zips).
Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. New York is a card-happy city; you can use cards nearly everywhere, including in taxis. You occasionally hear the story of a traveler to New York losing his wallet and the $500 in it. Don’t let that be you.
Be careful of your drinking. Drinking reduces your reaction time and lowers your inhibitions. Be especially careful at happy hours and bottomless brunches, where there’s pressure to drink quickly to make the most of your money.
Be cautious of strangers who come up to you and start telling a story. If they don’t get to the point in the first sentence or two, they are likely going to ask you for money or try to sell you something. You are not obligated to give them anything. Walk away and say that you have to go, that you’re late.
There are lots of panhandlers in New York, especially on the subway. You are not obligated to give them anything, either. While some of these people are genuinely in need, a great many of them are scamming people. It’s your choice whether or not to give, but if you want to help the homeless, I suggest making a donation to the Coalition for the Homeless, an excellent New York charity that works to create human solutions to end homelessness.
Look for exits. This is something I do everywhere, not just in New York. If there’s an emergency, it’s extremely helpful to know how to get out quickly.
If a subway car is empty at a busy time, it’s empty for a reason. Usually it means the AC isn’t working on a sweltering day; it could also mean there’s a spill or it smells terrible.
Don’t be afraid to spend more money to feel safer. If you’re wary about staying in a certain neighborhood, spend more for a hotel in a more central neighborhood. If it’s late at night and you’re not comfortable taking the subway at that time, just call an Uber Pool or Lyft Line. Sometimes it’s worth the peace of mind.
The best way to blend in? Walk quickly and with purpose. Respect people’s time. If you need to ask someone a question, do so quickly without telling a story. And definitely don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk!
Most importantly, you have no obligation to be nice to anyone. Women often feel the need to be nice and please people at all costs. You don’t have to anywhere — especially so in New York. If anyone is making you feel uncomfortable, just leave. Trust me — you won’t be the rudest person they meet that day. And so what if you were? You’re never going to see them again.
25 Great Things for Women to Do Alone in New York
There are so many amazing things to do in New York! No matter how long you’re here or what you’re into, you’ll leave wishing you had more time. Here are 25 offbeat activities in all five boroughs that are fun, memorable, and especially good for a woman traveling alone.
1. Take a walk through the Ramble in Central Park. The Ramble is my favorite part of the park — it’s dark, mysterious, and the closest thing to a forest in the middle of the city. It’s a nice quiet place to read a book, too.
2. Go to Amateur Night at the Apollo in Harlem. Cheer on your favorite performers and boo the others — they say it’s the most fun you can have for under $30! And you never know who might be discovered — D’Angelo won three Amateur Nights in a row when he was just 16 years old. He used his winnings to buy recording equipment and the rest is history.
3. Get lost in the stacks at The Strand. In my opinion this is New York’s finest bookstore, and if you like to read, you can get blissfully lost for hours. This is also a great spot to pick up New York souvenirs.
4. Join a Bushwick bites and street art tour. Bushwick is a strange neighborhood of art and culture, and most of the good stuff is hidden in plain sight, so you’re best off going with a guide. My friend Jessie is a licensed NYC Tour Guide and she’s been perfecting this tour for years — you’ll meet interesting people for sure!
5. Try some alternative health remedies. Curious about reiki? Or infrared saunas? Or sensory deprivation floating? New York has all of those and more. Groupon tends to have good deals.
6. Join a “watch party” at a bar. Lots of New Yorkers don’t have cable, so bars put on some of the most popular shows for people to watch together. You have instant camaraderie with your fellow watchers. RuPaul’s Drag Race and Game of Thrones are particularly popular.
7. Spend a day exploring the biggest Chinatown in Flushing, Queens. Manhattan’s Chinatown is actually on the small side compared to Flushing. Come here for the best Chinese food in New York. Both Serious Eats and Eater have Flushing food crawl guides.
8. Get away from it all at The Cloisters. Tucked into the corner of upper Manhattan is a medieval complex that feels like you’ve been transported to centuries ago. It’s included with your admission to the Met!
9. See a show by yourself. Broadway, off-Broadway, comedy, opera, ballet, whatever you’re into, New York has it all! If you want to see a Broadway show and can’t get Hamilton tickets, I recommend Waitress (funny, sweet, and romantic) or the now off-Broadway Avenue Q (hilarious, puppety and raunchy). You can always get cheap tickets to Phantom and Chicago. Use the TodayTix app for the best prices and get $10 off your first purchase with the code AELAA.
10. Visit two of New York’s island getaways. Governors’ Island is just south of Manhattan with historic buildings, incredible city views, and lots of bikes to rent. City Island, up in the Bronx, may be the opposite of what you expect the Bronx to be — it’s a quiet, retro fishing village best experienced with an ice cream cone. Keep in mind the ferry to Governors’ Island only runs during the summer months and City Island is best experienced in the summer.
11. Enjoy wine, cheese, and groceries, Italian- and French-style. Head to Eataly in Flatiron to gawk at the pasta selection before settling down for a glass of Nero d’Avola with some parmigiano reggiano. (And a tiny cone full of Nutella after!) Alternatively, visit Le District in Battery Park for some Sancerre and brie before perusing their fromagerie.
13. Rent a CitiBike and ride through a park. Don’t worry if you’re scared of city biking — riding through a park is much more low-key! Central Park may be most famous, but Riverside Park shows you a lot more of the city. Prospect Park is a great option in Brooklyn.
14. See a lecture or two. New York’s lecture scene doesn’t get many mentions in travel guides, but authors, artists, leaders, and celebrities are always giving interesting talks here! Thought Gallery has a list of lectures; 92Y puts on some of the best lectures in the city.
15. Dance the day away at a Daybreaker. Daybreakers are sober dance parties taking place early in the morning before work. They’re artsy and weird and the perfect way to start your day. It may feel intimidating to go to a dance party alone, but the Daybreaker crowd is very welcoming!
16. Go on a food tour of Jackson Heights, Queens. Queens is the most diverse borough in New York, and Jackson Heights in particular is home to many different ethnic communities. A food tour could include cuisine from Ecuador, Mexico, Nepal, the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and more.
17. Get your hair done and your nails done too. Visit one of the city’s many blowout bars, get a new cut and style, or spend an hour getting a gel manicure and pedicure that won’t budge for weeks. There are always plenty of deals on Groupon.
18. Try some crazy foods at Smorgasburg. This Brooklyn weekend food market features all kinds of crazy local fare. Get there when they open; the coolest stuff (like dragonfruit juice served right out of the fruit) goes quickly.
19. Join a fitness class. Whether you want to keep up your yoga practice or try an activity you can’t find at home, you’ll have fun, be healthy, and get mistaken for a New Yorker. Try aerial yoga at ANYA, underwater cycling at AQUA, or a prison workout taught by ex-cons at ConBody. Want to challenge yourself? Tone House is infamous for being the toughest workout in New York.
20. Spend a day at a Korean spa. Get scrubbed harder than you ever have before. Spa Castle in Queens is the biggest and best (there’s a shuttle from the Flushing stop); Premiere 57 is a smaller spa in Manhattan. Get there early, ideally on a weekday, for the fewest crowds.
21. Get lost in a botanical garden. New York has two: the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Bring a camera and stop to smell the roses. Hit up the Bronx’s Little Italy (far more authentic than Manhattan’s Little Italy) for a meal if you choose the former; an eatery along Flatbush Ave. if you choose the latter.
22. Experience the weirdness at Sleep No More. This immersive production is designed to be seen alone — they make efforts to separate you from your friends. Wear a mask and wander through a hotel as scenes from Macbeth take place around you in a nonlinear fashion.
23. Try the most Instagrammable food in the city. My recommendations? Head to Taiyaki in Chinatown for a fish-shaped ice cream concoction, try some glitter rainbow bagels at The Bagel Store in Williamsburg, and the insane candy-covered milkshakes at Black Tap are well worth a visit (get there EARLY on a weekday). Want to be healthier? Vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy has a “hot dog” made of broccoli.
24. Ride the Staten Island Ferry, with or without a drink. Buy a beer or canned drink in either terminal — it’s totally legal to drink openly on the ferry, and it’s a free ride too! Enjoy views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan.
25. Go to an alternative concert, rave, or party somewhere deep in Brooklyn. Looking for the weird, beyond hipster parties? Events vary widely, but Resident Advisor is a good source for finding them. House of Yes is a famous venue worth checking out.
How to Meet People in New York
If you’re looking to meet people in New York, you’re in luck! There are so many different ways to network and make new friends.
NYC Meetups on Reddit or Meetup.com. Whether you’re into travel, running, movies, board games, or just want to meet a group of nice people, there’s a Meetup for that. The Redditors have an ongoing meetup every Tuesday night at the Peculier Pub in Greenwich Village at 7:00 PM. Visitors are always welcome.
Couchsurfing. The Couchsurfing NYC community isn’t just for free accommodation, it’s also for socializing. The local Couchsurfers often put on events and meetups.
If my travel life can be cleaved neatly in half, this is the month where it should be done. Before Antarctica. After Antarctica. The most important, moving, and beautiful trip of my life.
Half the month was spent on board the Ocean Diamond, with seven days of exploring Antarctica and two days crossing the Drake Passage each way. I added a full extra day in Ushuaia and once getting back to New York, spent time exploring the other towns where I once lived.
Where I’ve Been
Stonington Island, Crystal Sound, Yalour Islands, Port Charcot, Lemaire Channel, Cuverville Island, Paradise Harbour, Danco Island, Wilhelmina Bay, Graham Passage, Cierva Cove, and Deception Island, Antarctica
New York, New York, USA
Fairfield, CT, USA
Reading and Melrose, Massachusetts, USA
Antarctica, all of it, every minute of it.
Being humbled by Antarctica. This place was nothing short of life-changing. I went into it in-depth in this post and it remains one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever done.
Not just kayaking, but being a kayaker in Antarctica. Kayaking was amazing — beautiful, peaceful, and it felt like you were alone in the world. But beyond that, the kayakers were a separate group on the boat in Antarctica — it really felt like we were the coolest people on board.
Doing the Polar Plunge! I jumped into 32F/0C water, south of the Antarctic Circle at Stonington Island. I was terrified at first but it was exhilarating! And yes, the jump is on film and there’s an iceberg in the background to prove it!
Meeting so many interesting people in Antarctica. There really was an interesting collection of people on board, of all ages, across the world. I hope to see them again in the future.
Lucking out on the Drake Passage. The most common question I’ve gotten from Antarctica vets is, “How was the Drake?” And honestly, we really lucked out. The Drake Passage is home to some of the roughest seas in the world and some of my blogger friends spent their crossings throwing up. It was choppy on the way down but not nearly as bad as it could have been; on the way back, the captain decided to leave half a day early to avoid storms and it was only a little bit worse.
Landing in Ushuaia. Probably the most beautiful landing I’ve ever had — such incredible jagged mountains. If you’re flying to Ushuaia, try to get a seat on the right!
A beautiful day in Tierra del Fuego. I arrived in Ushuaia a day early, lucked out with the weather and got to explore a stunning Tierra del Fuego National Park in sunshine. I capped it off perfectly with an interesting Patagonian tasting menu at Kalma Resto.
Lots of fun activities in NYC. Hanging out in a salt cave, a Japanese jazz bar, walks through Central Park, seeing all my friends, even my first-ever cupping session as part of my therapy for an injury. Oh, and the Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes viewing party at my local bar was fun. (Stormy: “I viewed it as a transaction.” Loud Southern gay dude: “As it SHOULD be!”)
Marching for sensible gun laws in the March for Our Lives in New York. I was honored to take part in this protest, nearly 20 years after I first marched for gun control one year after Columbine. And I remain deeply hopeful that this time momentum is on the side of sanity. Whoever controls the narrative controls everything, and we’ve never controlled the narrative like this before.
An impromptu trip to Connecticut for pizza. Turns out Frank Pepe’s is worth the hype — and somehow I went to college nearby for four years without ever going there.
A trip home — and a baby shower! A dear friend from home was showered with love as she prepares to welcome her baby girl later this spring.
Keeping one of my big resolutions for 2018: no more buses home to Boston. The bus is the cheapest and most convenient way to get from New York to Boston, but it’s miserable and uncomfortable, especially if there’s traffic, and my back hurts for days after. (Getting old is fun.) After last Christmas, I decided to prioritize my comfort and start taking the train instead. It costs around 3-5 times as much as the bus, but you can get lower rates in advance and it’s a million times more pleasant.
Finally, this month I joined the Society of American Travel Writers. One of the toughest dilemmas in the travel blogging industry is how to quantify which bloggers have the most value. Many organizations have tried; nobody has succeeded. The SATW is a prestigious organization and it’s hard for most bloggers to meet their requirements, so many elite bloggers are joining this year. Also, they’re having a conference in Barbados in September…
I had a bad reaction to the scopolamine patch in Antarctica. After several days on the seasickness patch, my vision blurred so badly that I couldn’t read anything unless it was held far from my face. This was the worst — it was not only scary but I couldn’t see what my camera was focused on.
I met with the ship’s doctor and she told me it was a common side effect of the patch and to take it off. The worst part was that I chose to sit out a kayaking session…and it was THE ONE DAY THE SUN CAME OUT. And it turned out to be the final day of kayaking too, sadly. That’s Antarctica for you! Say yes to everything, even when you can’t see straight, or you’ll regret it.
I was reminded how much I dislike Argentine food. If you take away steak and tasting menus or exceptional fare, the majority of what remains is BREAD and PIZZA and PASTA and DULCE DE LECHE. If you’re not spending a lot of money, you’re going to eat a lot of crappy sandwiches and/or sugary desserts when all you want is a decent salad or a piece of fruit.
Oh, and I got stuck in my building’s elevator. It only lasted ten minutes, but those ten minutes were SUPER FUN!
When I saw there were stamps for El Fin del Mundo in Tierra del Fuego National Park, I figured I could get one. I have a souvenir stamp from Liechtenstein and it looks like a normal stamp. Well, this stamp turned out to be HUGE, taking up the whole page! Whoops! Good thing it’s time to renew! For more updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
Maxwell - 1990x - YouTube
What I Listened To This Month
One of my favorite albums of the century is Maxwell’s BLACKsummersnight from 2009. At the time he said that his next albums would be titled blackSUMMERSnight and blacksummersNIGHT. I worked in search engine marketing at the time and I remember thinking, “Those are going to be the hardest albums to differentiate in Google since the Prince symbol.” I assumed he would change his mind, but blackSUMMERSnight came out in 2016 and I finally started listening to it, and despite the hard-to-convince-Alexa-to-play-it title, it’s AWESOME.
The song “1990x” is my current obsession. Well worth a listen if you ever grinded to Maxwell from the 90s through today.
Ugly Delicious | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube
What I Watched This Month
Netflix has been so good this month! Ugly Delicious is a new favorite. It’s a show about food starring David Chang, the chef behind the Momofuku empire and one of the most buzzworthy young chefs of recent years. This is very much a show of the times — it feels local and familiar and a bit Instagrammy, but not gimmicky. It’s a reminder of how food-focused consumers have become in the last decade. Watching this, I feel like I would be friends with David Chang and all his chef friends. Give it a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.
What I Read This Month
I’m continuing with my effort to read authors from different countries — I think instead of my original goal of 12 for 2018 I’ll aim for 25 or so. This month I added authors from North Korea and Myanmar.
Best of the month: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017) — I LOVE when you fall for characters when you read books, and Cyril Avery is one of my favorite characters of the past few years. This novel tells his life story, from a child growing up adopted to distant, eccentric parents; hiding his sexuality in conservative Dublin as an adolescent and young adult; escaping and building a fulfilling life abroad; and finally, his return home. Book of the Month members rated this book the #1 read of 2017 and I can see why.
At 592 pages, this was the biggest unread book on my shelf, so I decided it would be my one real book I’d bring to Antarctica. I started it on the flight to Buenos Aires and finished before I even got on the ship. No joke. It was that good.
When you think of countries that are hostile to LGBT people, you don’t think of Ireland — but in a country so embedded with Catholicism, the slightest hint that you were gay was enough to be excommunicated by everyone you knew. It would make anyone crazy. Cyril had a lot of highs and lows over the course of his life, and I loved standing with him every step of the way as he righted his wrongs and became the man he never thought would be possible. Great ending, too.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2016) — This book has been a major hit, and I knew I wanted to read it on a boat, so it became my Antarctica read. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer on her very first press trip aboard a luxury vessel off the coast of Norway. Then a woman on board goes missing and she suspects she’s been murdered. It’s a fast-paced thriller as Lo tries to figure out who did it before it’s too late.
I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, but I see why it was a hit. One of the curses of frequent travel is that you notice mistakes in books and movies. This vessel is supposedly hardcore Scandinavian, from its look and style to the names of the staterooms — but if that were the case, the chandelier would not be made of ornate crystal (Scandinavian design is very clean) and there wouldn’t have been rooms named after Finns (Finland is Nordic but not Scandinavian).
Beyond that, I wasn’t crazy about Lo as a character and it irritated me to no end that she was on her first press trip ever and so nervous to do it right — yet she spent the whole time drinking, wandering, and taking zero notes whatsoever. Way to give us a good name, Lo.
Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim (2015) — Joseph Kim grew up in North Korea during the Great Famine of the 1990s. This memoir shares how he survived near-starvation for several years, outlived his father, saw his sister sold into bride-slavery, was abandoned by his mother, begged and stole for survival, was held capture in a prison for children, and ultimately made the escape into China and, eventually, America.
I knew North Korea had a famine, but I had no idea just how long it lasted. This book illustrates what it’s like to starve for years on end. To work so hard for every single meal — it seems unsurvivable. And yet so many people did survive it. I’ve read a few books about North Korea before, but never by a North Korean who escaped. It’s a devastating book on so many levels and I highly recommend it, along with Suki Kim’s fascinating Without You, There Is No Us, for understanding North Korea today.
The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather (2011) — After losing her job and marriage in the same week, food journalist Robin Mather needed to find a way to survive on little money as she put her life back together. She moved to a cottage on a lake in rural Michigan and decided to focus on eating local food — and while she initially did for financial regions (eating very well on $40 per week), she realized how much joy this lifestyle brought her.
Two of my guilty pleasures are memoirs about city women who move to the country and memoirs about eating locally, so this was a great choice! She went into great detail about how to source local food, the ambiguities of eating ethically, and the variations within the seasons. The book is filled with lots of recipes as well. My one complaint is one lots of other readers had: she didn’t talk whatsoever about how it felt to lose her marriage and her job, and it seemed odd to completely omit those things from a memoir. Otherwise, I very much enjoyed reading about the food. Oh, and if what she writes here is accurate, her parrot is creepily intelligent. If you’re into books about local eating, one of my all-time favorite memoirs is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi (2008) — It’s the time of the Taungbyon Festival in northern Myanmar, not far from Mandalay. Daisy Bond is a ladyboy in his fifties (I’m using male pronouns because the book does) who performs as a natkadaw — the wife of a nat, or spirit. The natkadaw is possessed by the spirit and performs at the festival for money. Daisy has a boyfriend, a twenty-something boy, Min Min, whom he essentially purchased from his mother when he was a teenager. But after years together, Min Min falls in love with a girl and decides to leave Daisy.
What I most loved about this book is how you feel immersed in the festival. Yi paints so many colorful details around — the natkadaws evoking the spirits, people young and old diving for money, the backstage antics and rivalries. And the discussion of the gay scene in Myanmar was fascinating. My only complaint would be that the translation leaves a lot to be desired. It’s choppy and uneven. And while song lyrics often fill the pages, I think they would have had more power if the translator hadn’t tried to make them rhyme. Even so, this gave me my first look into Burmese literature and I really enjoyed it.
Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (2016) — In the last years of Obama’s presidency, before Trump was elected, Hochschild wanted to profile the white working class people who made up the Tea Party. A liberal journalist from Berkeley, California, she focused on the area around Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana. This part of Louisiana is being destroyed by the petrochemical industry, and Louisiana is often in the bottom five states for education and healthcare, yet so many of the residents vote against their interests again and again. Why is this happening? This book tries to explain.
I started this book years ago and I abandoned it because it made me so angry. Residents would be heartbroken seeing their family’s homes become unlivable, land strewn with sinkholes, lakes filled with poisonous fish, bridges on the verge of collapse, and they had the power to stop it, yet they would vote based on a single criterion: does this candidate hate abortion as much as I do? I’m glad I picked it up again, though, working through an hour at a time at my nail appointments. The last part of the book is most interesting, profiling several individuals in-depth.
I read this book to understand the mindset behind people voting far-right. This book didn’t just show me what people believe, but it went into all the factors that influenced those beliefs. Additionally, it made me realize yet another privileged position I hold: by living in a blue state, I get to enjoy all the products made by the American petrochemical industry but don’t have to deal with the resulting damage to my local environment, like the people of southwest Louisiana do.
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.