Trip Tales: ATHENS

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“Nice, old, somewhat dirty city.”

— A Random TripAdvisor Review of Athens, Greece

Big Fan! – I liked these things

– *Thision Open Air Cinema: This wound up being one of my most memorable experiences in Athens! I had never been to an open air cinema, and it seemed like the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening in Athens. We arrived early to see Mama Mia 2 which wound up being the most appropriate film to see as it takes place in the Greek islands and we were heading there next. I cried a few times during the film, not only because it was sentimental, but because the experience was just so perfect. I felt as though I caught a glimpse into how an Athenian may spend a typical evening with friends or family. The experience felt like an opportunity to see local life, but felt so familiar at the same time. Watching people laugh and cry together, people of all backgrounds, was one of those moments which made me realize why I love travel. A destination can be so foreign, but whenever I feel homesick, there are these little bouts of circumstance that play out which remind me that people are people wherever you go in the world. Whoever these people were, they felt an emotional connection to what was unfolding on the screen the same as I did. They danced and sang to the music just as I had the urge to do. This combined with the sun setting over the Acropolis and holding hands with my husband as we drank cool beers and hot popcorn made for an excellent experience. One I will never forget. We were all to ourselves as a newly wedded couple on a date, yet surrounded by people just like us. I can’t hear Abba’s Fernando without crying heavy, happy, emotional tears ever since this night!

 

 

 

Acropolis: This one is so obvious that is almost feels insulting to put it on the list. Seeing the monuments atop the acropolis from anywhere whether it be dinner or the streets below is a hits you in the gut moment. The realization that this sight has been here for so many to see for centuries, the realization that so many people would do anything to see this sight and here I am seeing it from every angle is humbling. I hate hiking and sweating with a passion. I hate when people say, “the reward is when you get to the end and see _____”…insert any non impressive lake, view, sight without a bar. This is the one and only time in my life where I felt that the prize for having finished an arduous hike was worth it. To be clear, when I say hike, I refer to anything where my ass isn’t being pushed around as a hike. There were literally people with canes and walkers doing the same hike as me, and beating me, guys. BUT, it was sweltering, and I was sweating, and I was tired, all the prerequisites needed for a hike were met on this day, so, let’s call a spade a spade. From the point of ascent to reaching the top of the acropolis, it’s not hard to envision the ancient people (my vision has them all in white linen) pulling animals up the hill, chatting with each other, and praying to their gods. Besides one teacher I work with who still can’t figure out how e-mail works, the Parthenon atop of the acropolis is the oldest relic I have ever seen. Both ancient wonders leave me awe struck. I’ve seen memorabilia from the romantic age of literature and shivered at its antiquity and my proximity to it. The feeling of being in touching distance of the Parthenon, coupled with its sheer magnitude and a never ending parade of questions about its being built is unfathomable. Considering hiking up the hill and being able to see this is something I consider a feat, I cannot imagine the swirl of pride that ancient Athenians felt having actually built the damn thing. To see it from a distance is incredible, to see it close up is an incomparable experience. Despite the many tourists who were there to see the Parthenon (wait, you’ve all heard of this too?! not just me?!) it did not feel crowded. I really appreciated the fact that there were refillable stations for water bottles at the top, otherwise known by normal people as water fountains.

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Athens Food Tours: Why anyone would go on a walking tour where you don’t get to eat throughout it is beyond me. You would think that if one were given two options, walk for two hours with no food, or walk for two hours and stop every three minutes for food, the correct option would be obvious. Alas, there are people who don’t do food tours, evil does live among us, folks. The name of the company we went with is literally Athens Food Tours and it was an exceptional afternoon well spent. My healthy and fit husband got to see that there is more to the culinary world than fruits, veggies, and steel cut oats, and I, got to eat like I was going to the electric chair under the guise of a cultural experience. In marriage, that is what you call a win-win. Our tour guide was the ever-amazing Georgia who was kind, knowledgeable, and bold. We traveled through some of the grittier parts of Athens and she faced traffic, cat calling, and other hazards like a bad-ass! Some of the highlights include walking through fruit markets and fish markets where Georgia got hit on, but I flipped my hair around and acted as if these compliments were hurled in my sweaty direction. “Ugh, guys seriously, stop, I have a husband!” We visited a koulouri stand where Greeks running to work and hung over partier-s grab their breakfast, the so called, Greek doughnut made of sesame bread. We had a full sit down meal eating the traditional gyros on a cobble stone street as we watched the world go by. There were samplings of basturma, baklava, and halva. My favorite was the onslaught of cheeses, honeys, and olives provided by a store which specialized in delicacies from Crete, a part of Greece known for its culinary wonder. The tour was an excellent way to meet others, connect with local culture, and learn more about the lives of Athenians. Foodie travel has become an insanely popular business as per the late Anthony Bourdain’s influence. I try to take a food tour everywhere I travel to, and it is an exceptional way of learning about another culture.

 

 

 

Plaka: If you ever find yourself underwhelmed or actually, overwhelmed by the streets of Athens, head here. It is heavily tourist-ed, but aesthetically pleasing and relaxing. Picture dope street art meets cobble stone, car-free streets meets, low hanging trees with beautiful flowers. This was a great place to grab a beer, a platter of fried food, and to enjoy the beauty of the little buildings and nature around us. A hip, Instagrammer’s version of heaven. Our waiter took the time out to really converse with us, to learn more about us, and to tell us more about Athens as we slowly became giggly and euphoric from drink. Whereas Athens tended to move very fast for me, Plaka seemed to move more slowly and peacefully.

 

 

 

Temple of Zeus: Not much stands of the old temple to the big shot himself, but the pillars which do stand are tall enough to bump into the home of the gods itself. I found myself staring at it as I walked around yelling, “This is just…here!?” People drive past it every day, see it from their windows, and don’t even give it a second glance! Again, one has to keep in mind that we’re not looking at a monument erected (have to continuously use this word as we’re talking about Zeus) in honor of something that happened long ago. You are literally looking at the thing built so long ago! THOUSANDS of years ago, and it still stands! It’s even crazier when you realize everyone has a least heard of Zeus. He is the world renowned adulterer, rapist, child eater, womanizer, thunder bolt throwing boss of all the Greek gods. This is where people came to worship him, beg of him, and seek clarification to life’s mysteries. ”Dear Zeus, sexually assaulted by a swan, have a feeling you know something about this.“ It’s a fraction of a temple, that is all, but it’s something I found I could marvel at for hours.

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– *Panathenaic Stadium: My husband is a fan of athleticism and sport, and I have at least tried athleticism one time, so we were really eager to see this. This was his find and it was a great one. The audio guide is a must as it explains the history of the site as well as the history of the Olympics. There are plenty of great photo opportunities and the whole place is full of stairs, AKA, places to sit which really suited me well. While I used the stairs as respite and to take selfies, my husband ran up and down them to get his cardio in. This, again, is a great example of a win-win in marriage. To get to the inside you go through a tunnel and the audio guide does an excellent job of painting a scene of a gladiator coming out to see the crowd for the first time, or the ancient rituals which happened under the bridge, one of which involves topless women dancing in a circle. Weird because when those girls did this, it was religious, when my friends and I do this, it’s “inappropriate” and “frightening to children.” The inside has a well laid out and captivating display of memorabilia from every year’s Olympics including prior torches, jerseys worn, signs hailed, and more. It was interesting to see the way the Olympics looked in different years and in different places, the huge variety in display is dizzying and kept us interested. I enjoyed this experience so much more than I thought I would have and I highly recommend!

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Theater of Dionysus: I remember being in my freshmen year of college and taking a world theater class. Despite learning about so many styles of theater, learning about the ancient Greeks and the way they celebrated acting and stories on stage captured my interest greatly. In any given school year there are a few things you will always remember, wonder about, and be interested in learning more about, this was ancient Greek theater for me. I enjoyed imagining the ancient Athenians sitting in the amphitheater with their bread, cheese, and wine while theatrics and the magic of acting was literally invented right before their eyes. I remember learning about Dionysus and his association with wine, food, theater, and entertainment. I’ve googled photos, search up stories, and watched countless documentaries on all these things just for the sake of wanting to learn more and enjoyment. Seeing the theater of Dionysus itself was a pinch me, tears in eyes, heart in throat moment for me. I sat where all those people I dreamed about had sat before. I sat in the same place where they were overtaken by the spirit of creativity and joy of wine, both of which overtake me nearly every day. I stared out over the trees and roads, imagining ancient people excitedly coming to sit for the show. To be fortunate enough to visit a place I’ve heard about and dreamed about for so long…there are no words to describe my gratitude. If there’s one thing I love to do it’s dream and imagine, what a perfect place for such activities.

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Public Transportation: In the travel-sphere there is a shit ton of emphasis lately on living like a local. I’m pretty much good on that. I kind of get what sleeping in a yurt is like, I’d rather sleep in an air-conditioned hotel and go to Starbucks. To live like a local, you should follow someone to their job every day. Drop their kids off at daycare. Pay their water and electric bill. I think it’s kind of stupid this idea of “living like a local.” I live in Brooklyn, and the local experience is not going to a restaurant three meals a day. It’s me re-heating leftovers for dinner and taking a nap on the couch shortly after. I think what travelers really mean, is a glimpse of local life, which is much more feasible. It’s the chance to go to a nightclub where locals blow off steam, it’s buying your meat from the butcher up the block, it’s staying in an apartment where other native people to the area live. I hear taking public transportation talked about a lot, in travel…I don’t know that a lot of people actually do it. We took Athens version of the subway to and from the Acropolis and it provided me with a brief glimpse into local life. I knew there were mostly locals on the train because my not knowing how to do anything and wide eyed wonder girl look at the list of stops made most of them sigh annoyed-ly and roll their eyes…just like in New York! I’m AWFUL at taking public transportation. Drive-able, or I’m not going is my motto. I’d rather spend big bucks on a cab than two dollars on a subway ride, and I’m really not ashamed to admit that publicly. I don’t like being crammed into tight spaces with others, I don’t like the feeling of no air, and I hate standing in a pee filled subway cart being verbally harassed by weirdos when I can sit comfortably in a car. So there, I’m the world’s WORST human and traveler, whatever. However, there are a few places where the public transportation system is fairly straight forward and so I don’t mind taking it. Athens was one such place for me. Fairly clean, fairly safe feeling, fairly straight forward. I recommend.

Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)

Walking Around at Night: To be fair, this isn’t just an Athens thing, this is a boo for most cities. I always think, how would I feel as a woman walking alone here at night? The answer is pretty scared. There were certain areas that were desolate, not well lit, and shady. Not to mention, the uncomfortable stares and remarks made to me. If I felt afraid walking around at night with my husband, I really don’t think I’d enjoy walking around at night by myself. Be smart, be alert, and take a cab to and from anywhere you need to go in the evenings. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Food overall: I did an amazing food tour and I had some pretty good meals here. I visited a number of cafes and restaurants while in Athens across many different neighborhoods. I wouldn’t say that the food I had overall was bad, but it wasn’t what I expected. There are certain places in the world where people rave about the food. In Charleston, for example, I did not have a single underwhelming meal. I just feel as though there was nothing that I could rave or rant about in terms of meals I had. There were certain places where the concept was cool, or the atmosphere was impressive, but do I recall a single stand out meal that I had because of the food? Not really. Greek food is something people rave about, like Italian food, and for that I felt a bit disappointed. Feel free to comment with your culinary experiences or gems of restaurants I missed! If you want to tell me that the experience I had is offensive to you…direct all e-mails to your nearest trash can.

Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences

Coffee: Here is an area where Athens really shined. The coffee scene has something for everyone. Want to feel like you’ve just smoked an entire pack of cigarettes? Try a black coffee here. Want to keep up your buzz AND energy levels? Try your coffee with booze. I could not get enough of the iced coffees and frappes. Creamy, sugary, deliciousness cool and refreshing on a summer day? Yes please.

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Acropolis View Restaurants: If you’re going to splurge on anything in Athens, let this be it. Sitting at a table at night, eating an incredibly expensive platter of cheese and meats while sipping wine and seeing this view? Most people only see this in their dreams. It’s an experience where I constantly had to ask myself what I did to deserve such privileges in life. Then I remembered that I deal with teenagers all day long and that I definitely fucking deserve this moment. There is nowhere else in the world where you can eat dinner and have the Acropolis as your view other than Athens, Greece. It is the pinnacle of reward for working hard, saving up, and getting yourself here. Any other day you can eat cheap souvlakis and get on line at Burger King, but at least for one meal and one day, anyone coming to Greece needs to have this experience. It’s a complete paradox to the less than rave reviews that Athens gets and its always good to see the other side of the coin.

 

 

 

Little Kook: I almost regret putting this on the list as I don’t want to see it become a Buzzfeed video. Little Kook is the coolest and most unique restaurant I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Every few months it completely changes themes, and when I say completely changes…this isn’t putting holiday decorations in an out of a box. EVERYTHING changes, the wait staff’s outfits, the menus, the plants, the decor, everything. The atmosphere and decor could honestly give Disney World a run for its money, I’m probably as impressed by this place as I am by the Parthenon. It seemed to be dessert centric, and so I got a giant milkshake with an entire doughnut on top. What better way to unwind after an entire food tour? My words about this place and its vibrancy pretty much render useless, it needs to be seen to be believed!

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Digs – Where I crashed

We stayed at a chic and cozy little apartment found through Air BnB. It was the perfect size for two people and offered a small balcony to sit and watch the neighborhood below. Some of the strengths include plenty of closet space, a full size make up table, and a kitchen where the host has ice cold water waiting in the fridge, this was much appreciated in the throws of summer! The host was a friendly and warm woman named Haroula who was everything I hoped a Greek mother or grandmother would be. While the apartment was not centrally located to the Acropolis, it was easy enough to hop on the underground train and get there (maybe about seven minutes in total.) Plenty of adorable restaurants and cafes in the area. ALL IMAGES OF AIR BNB PROPERTY BELONG TO PROPERTY HOST AND WERE NOT TAKEN BY ME!

Listing title: Central, Cozy & Vintage, Perfect for two!

 

 

What I Learned…

Athens gets a bad rap. Anyone looking to travel to Greece is always told, “Ehh, a day or two in Athens is fine, but leave immediately after. Actually, just fucking skip it. It’s a war zone.” As up front as I am about the seediness of Athens, I love grit and I love big cities. Big cities are often talked about in terms of their homicide numbers, public health detriments, and lack of cleanliness. Anyone who lives in or has spent time in big cities knows that there is so much more to a city, and it is no different for Athens.

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No, Athens is not one of Greece’s famed islands. Athens is where you experience pockets of local life, street art, and the plight of the average Joe (or average Constantine I guess in this case.) School is where you hear history, Athens is where you see the history you’ve learned about, an experience that for most people only exists in BBC documentaries and textbooks. Yes, Athens is dirty streets and creepy men, but it’s also green grasses, beautiful flowers, picturesque restaurants, and stunning, unparalleled views. Athens is seeing triple from a single shot of ouzo or raki while you listen to loud chatter and even louder music. People say to run out after one day, I can’t believe I only spent three days. There is so much to see and do, and much to do beyond the guide books and TripAdvisor suggestions. Everyone wants to be Anthony Bourdain, yet they shutter at the idea of exploring the people and ‘mean streets’ of places with grit, like Athens. If your purpose in traveling is to take pretty pictures to make your friends jealous, by all means, snap your selfie at the Parthenon and bounce on over to Santorini. If your purpose in travel is to connect, to learn, to explore and maybe get a few physical and emotional cuts and bruises along the way, as any good explorer does, spend some time in Athens.

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Inconsistent India

I shouldn’t have clicked it, but I did. New York Post put out an article today entitled,

“Woman raped and burned kills attacked by dragging him into the flames”

I held my stomach with one hand as I opened the article on my phone with the other. “Surely, the country can’t be getting this fucking bad” I thought to myself. Things were getting ‘that bad’, but, in another country. My country was not the sight of the attack. It had taken place in India, a country where sexual assault, rape, and violent crime against women is up, again.

Damn. Humans are selfish. At least I am. After reading the article and the comments, I thought about myself. I began to recall my own time backpacking through India. I thought about my own uncomfortable moments involving the men there and put my phone down. “Can’t believe I did all that. Backpacked through India.” Despite only being two years ago, it seemed like some wild, impetuous thing I’d done as a teenager/young adult, to which there are many stories. On more than one occasion, I felt threatened by a man in India, and I still feel the same nausea thinking about those moments as I did when they actually happened.

I listened to a podcast on the way home from work, punching my foot to the gas to get to church and receive the good ashes, evidently. Four female hosts talked excitedly about their time in India and how they’ve been trying to re-create their favorite dishes of the country in their own homes here in the states. “Oh…India!” I declared out loud, suddenly and VERY fondly remembering the rainbow array of exceptional food I had during my two week stint. I did not have a single bad meal while in India. The hosts talked of sweet coconut chutney with idli, a better version of pancakes. “Yes, yes! I remember eating that every day for breakfast, it was delicious!” I said aloud in agreement. Writing this now, I’m embarrassed saying that because as you’ve probably guessed, I was alone in my car saying this aloud. A flood of happy memories such as lounging on a private boat on a sunny day in Kerala, dining on the beach in Goa, and laughing so hard my sides hurt in a rickshaw with my husband and our driver in Delhi came pouring into me. India, one of my best trips, I mused.

Same trip, same traveler, two very different recollections. So, what gives? Mixed feelings. I participate in many travel related social media groups. Every once in a while there is a woman who will ask if she should visit India, or visit India solo. The responses are always, “yes!” “hell yeah!” “OMG YES!” These straight up, no hesitation responses always puzzle me. Admittedly, when a woman asks if she should do anything in this group, there are seldom people who say something like, “no” or “let me be honest…”

I’ve been an outcast in so many spheres in my life, that I don’t comment on these circumstances and just let everyone pipe in with their “yeahs” and “yipees” which I’m SURE are well-intentioned. After all, these people are all adults. My strange comment won’t mean much, I’m sure. But, if a friend were asking me if they should visit India, here is what I would say.

I’ve been to 23 countries and God knows how many places in the USA. I mean it when I say, I love every single country I’ve ever visited. I. love. India. There are so many reasons why. I intend on writing another article about the details of my trip to India, but here’s a snapshot.

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India, on one hand, is not what you think. Yes, I did visit the bustling cities of Delhi and Mumbia. But, India is more than just that. The south of India, in particular, is another world entirely. Kerala and Goa are the best parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, and California rolled into one. Think lush greenery, beautiful beaches where people party until sunrise, palm trees swaying in the wind, hippies, yoga in the brightest green tea hills you have ever seen, and the most soft spoken, humble, and normal people you’ve ever met. Kerala is nicknamed God’s own country, and the name is legitimate.

If God used a mighty paintbrush to paint only one part of the world canvas, it was undoubtedly Kerala, and south India as a whole.

Goa was a vacation spot for people who are exactly like the friends and family you know. In fact, nothing could be more typical of a resort town. Older women clinking their wine glasses as they cheered being on a girls trip and away from their stupid husbands. Men slamming down beers and singing “pub style” in small beach shacks, celebrating being away from their annoying wives on a guys trip. Parents dipping their small children into the ocean and laughing at their reactions at seeing the ocean for the first time. Guests ordering plates of fried seafood. People drunkenly singing karaoke at beach side bars and trying to find the perfect souvenirs of t-shirts, sunglasses, and trinkets in small clothing huts. Tito’s lane is full of nightclubs, bars, and restaurants that could fit right into Los Angeles, Miami, or anywhere of the like.

Some parts of Mumbai and Delhi could easily have been mistaken as any big city in my own country. We were shocked to see young couples on…DATES! Dates in chic, hip restaurants which played hip hop music and kept right on part with the edgy molecular gastronomy movement happening everywhere in Europe and the Americas. Young couples held hands and walked along the water. Dads driving middle class cars held the door open for their small children to run in and be dropped off, presumably, at school.

For those who aren’t visiting India to see a different version of the same thing they see all the time, there is room for that too. In Udaipur we visited a temple where men, women, and children sat in colorful and elegant clothing clapping their hands and signing to worship their gods, barefoot and smiling. We visited small shops where artisans create works of art from animal bones, and we caught a performance of traditional Rajasthani performance. Our first day in Udaipur we passed a public bus, except this bus allowed men to sit on top of it when there was not enough room down below.

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India, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d think. As we drove from Mumbai’s airport to our hotel, I was physically sick from culture shock. THOUSANDS of horns were blaring, cars drove in fictitious and self created lanes, cows ran wherever they pleased. At a traffic stop, a man with a missing arm banged his “stump” on my window begging for money. The buildings were gray and dilapidated, trash was abundant, smells were more abundant, and everyone looked at me from outside as the asshole, rich, white foreigner that snapped photos of their day to day life to post on social media later.

When we got to our hotel, I turned on the shower, climbed in, and sat on the floor knees curled to chest and cried. I fucking hate this and I want to go home immediately. (Side note, I no longer felt this way after spending that afternoon and night sleeping comfortably.)

We took a tour that night of Mumbai by night. In addition to our incredible tour guide and driver, we met a couple from Australia who were lovely. This tour made me see Mumbai in a different way, a way I really liked. It should be noted, that people of India LOVE taking photographs with foreigners. So, when two shy young men asked to take a photo with us, I didn’t think this was odd at all. In my world, it is not unusual to throw your arm around the person next to you in the photo, or to step closely to them. In an attempt to break barriers, I said, “come on guys! Group photo with new friends!” I threw my left arm over my husband’s shoulder, and my right over the shy young man next to me. Big mistake. The man began groping me FIERCELY and uncomfortably around me waist and my stomach as the lens snapped. The photo was taken, they thanked us, and ran off with it, and I was left dry heaving and in tears. I was at a loss for words and as I give pause while I write this, I feel sick re-thinking about this. My biggest fear was that this photo would be used in an unwholesome way, not as a memento from having met some cool Americans. I’d like to write more on how I felt, but I’m as much at a loss for words now as I was then. I felt disgusted and even plunged into an acute panic attack/depressive moment as that moment, the feeling of his grimy hands on my as I stood next to my husband played over and over again.

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When riding a train another day in Mumbai, a man put his hand over mine as I held onto the strap. Usually, Mumbai’s trains are a nightmare, and you cannot be mad for people being too close to you or being in your space, you just can’t. But on this day, at this time, there were only 7 of us in the compartment. Twenty straps, and this man had to put his hand ON my hand. I moved it, thinking, maybe this is his strap, the one he uses daily. He again, took his hand and put it over mine again and stared at me as I looked at the floor waiting to get off our stop. I shutter not that this happened, but for how much more could have happened had I not been with a tour group, had my husband not grabbed my hand to show we were married, and had I been alone. Later on in Mumbai, less disheartening, but still a shock to me, when negotiating a deal with a tour operator, I spoke up to explain a concern my husband and I had and was told by the operator to be quiet because this was a conversation to be had between him and my husband, two men, and I had no part in it.

In Delhi, at the Red Fort, three men stared at me in a way that made sweat drip down my neck, every woman knows this feeling. “We want to take a picture with your wife” one of the men declared. My husband, tried to give them an out. “Excuse me? Did you say you would like my wife to take a picture for you? Of the three of you?” The man clarified that, no, he had in fact wanted me to be in a picture with the three of them. My husband gave them a stern no and laughed it off, but again, I wonder, what if I had no husband to say “no“ for me? Would my ”no“ had been enough? A few days after returning home, I read an article about a foreign couple who was stoned outside of the Taj Mahal for denying a photo with a group of men. Could that have been us?

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I will say, there were plenty of places where men were more than respectful towards me. We took a private 24 hour boat ride in Allepey, and the crew of men were professional and accommodating. When my husband became ill overnight I made several demands, spoke sternly, and was given the upmost respect and was spoken back to like a person of equal stature. The men made themselves scarce and stuck to their duties the entire trip, but also made themselves available for polite conversation and to work out every detail with us to make our journey perfect. I felt so comfortable with this crew, that I could have easily been on the boat myself and not felt in danger.

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If you are healthy both in mind and body, have an adventurous spirit, and can roll with the punches, you should always visit India. The bad experiences I had pale in comparison to all of the magnificent ones I had, and given the chance, I would absolutely go back. I personally would not feel comfortable traveling to India alone or with a girl friend. I felt that my husband was not only an amazing travel partner, but a big deterrent in being harassed or taken advantage of, even in terms of being charged for things. There were times where I felt very uncomfortable, because I was out of my comfort zone! Some days were outstanding, but challenging for me because they were so different, not because I felt unsafe or in danger. For example, in Munnar we went on an hour long hike and I had never done a challenging hike before. I was so thankful to have my husband there to physically help me when I felt weak and to know all the right things to say when I felt scared or unsure of continuing. I would recommend visiting India with someone you know and trust who will be your biggest asset when you need support and who you will always be glad you shared such an adventurous and amazing time with.

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Yes, Visiting An All Inclusive Resort IS Traveling

I’m a travel enthusiast who hates travel snobs.

Exactly one year ago my husband and I chose the Now Sapphire resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico as the venue of our wedding. It was affordable, exceeded all expectations, and was one of the best travel experiences of my life. One year later we’ve moved on with our travels, but our guests still rave about our week together in paradise and hail it as the party of the year. Essentially, 60 of us unplugged from work, from commuting, from the monotony of life, and from the oppressive gray skies and snow of New York to gather together to drink heavily, enjoy the 80 degree sunshine, and experience something new. I was floored by the resort and have fond memories of the week. I am eternally grateful to the guests who spent their hard earned money to celebrate our nuptials, and I hold nothing against the guests who could not make it to our celebration, well except…one bitch.

Let’s give her a fake name like…Cathy. Cathy did not attend our wedding despite having a more than comfortable amount of disposable income and unlimited vacation days at her cushy, corporate, position. Cathy did not attend our wedding in Mexico because, “she likes to travel for real and being at an all inclusive is not traveling.” I’m lying if I didn’t tell you that I had visions of shoving a pitchfork up Cathy’s ass…you know…to keep the stick that had already clearly been there company.

Cathy likes sleeping in huts with strangers she’s never met and thinks she’s edgy for not getting vaccinated before traveling to foreign countries. Cathy practices yoga and meditation every day while gazing into the eyes of a statue of Buddha’s head in her living room. She doesn’t let the fact that actual Buddhist principles strongly detest having such incomplete shrines of Buddha on display stop her from appropriating the parts of their culture that she enjoys. Cathy does these things not because they add any real value to anyone’s life, but because she thinks it makes her a better person…more woke, enlightened, and chill. In Long Island culture, Cathy is what we locals refer to as, a twat.

It is an indisputable fact that getting on a plane and going to a foreign country anywhere is in itself, traveling. So help me understand this bullshit philosophy that people who visit all-inclusive resorts are not “really traveling.” We travel bloggers and enthusiasts live in an age where adorable young women like to get on their high horse, aptly named Instagram, and preach to us about “authentic traveling.” After all, what can be more authentic than having someone take fake candid photos of you looking at paintings by artists whose name you know, but history you know nothing about. What’s more original and unique than a photo of you standing in tree pose in a yoga class in Bali. What screams I’m too legit to quit like wearing the highly appropriate mountain climbing attire of a FUCKING BALLGOWN as you ascend on a two hour climb to watch a sunset in Southeast Asia. What is more authentic than…ooooh a photo of one enjoying an acai bowl by the beach! Or, captioning your photo on a hammock or water swing with a quote by some author you know nothing about because you don’t spend your free time reading! Or, eating an ice-cream cone, or taco, or piece of pizza and writing some witty caption about how “fat” you are. Or a photo of you walking toward the ocean with peace sign fingers and your tanned ass hanging out?

All inclusive resorts, so long as they maintain a level of safety and fairness to their guests and staff, are the shit, and I intend on spending a lot of my vacation time in the next few years at them. Why? Simple, when was the last time you spent consecutive days truly doing what you want?

I’m not dissing any of my travels, I love them all. But, traveling is hard work whether or not people want to believe that. Any trip to Europe has always felt exhausting. I’m running from sight to sight, show to show, place to place. I’m on another flight or train ride every third day, I’m up at the crack of dawn for sight seeing and out experiencing the night life until the wee hours of the morning again with little sleep. While these are my most fun and fondest moments of life, I’m also arriving back to New York feeling as though I need a vacation from my vacation.

This simply isn’t the case when I visit an all inclusive resort. Critics will say they find “all inclusives“ too restricting or limiting, I say it’s more freedom than I feel anywhere in the world.

No Schedule: As a NYC school teacher, my world revolves on a schedule tighter than a crab’s ass. I won’t bore you with the details, most people with a 9-5 or something of the like understand. Most times when I travel, I am still on a schedule of visiting sights, taking tours, and arriving at reservations. All Inclusive life? No such thing. I start the day waking up whenever I want. I can watch the sunrise at 6AM, or roll lazily out of bed at noon. The only thing awaiting me is lounging by the pool, endless cocktails, food and friends. I can eat as many times a day as I please and at whatever time I want. I get all kinds of wild. I’ve had my breakfast at 1pm and ordered room service at 3 in the morning. There are no meetings, no lectures, no conferences. I’m free to relax, I mean REALLY relax in the sunshine and warmth all damn day. At home, we tend to accept that laying in front of the TV eating Cheetos is relaxing. At an all inclusive resort, splashing to the swim up bar, watching the waves roll in on the beach, and reading a novel under the sun reinforces what relaxation really is. In the evenings, I can spend the night in my hotel room listening to the ocean and nodding off at 9PM, or I can let loose drinking and dancing until 2AM where I return to my room without any need to set an alarm. Out of all the things in life I claim to be the best, I think this is the winner. In one word: Restorative.

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To Do or Not To Do: The onslaught of activities at all inclusive resorts is literally insane. There are the usual suspects: kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, etc. Then, there’s the activities the resorts plan which go off roughly every 3-5 seconds. At Now Sapphire, I remember it raining heavily the day before my wedding. One of the entertainment staff informed me that my choices of activity, from 4-5PM would be sushi making, salsa lessons, cigar rolling, and continued to name at least four more activities. All of these happened within one hour! And every hour there were an abundance or more, new, activities! There is always something to see, do, or new to try. Travel should be fun, and not too serious. If we’re being honest, most of us are not changing the world when we travel, we’re there to enjoy what is offered. Sometimes, travel has to be silly, nonsensical, and ridiculous. I absolutely love watching the “pool games” put on by resorts. I’ll never forget my favorite.

My husband and I watched a game of men vs women scavenger hunt by the pool. There were four men and four women, each would pair off and be told to find something and take it from a guest (a chapstick, a dollar bill, etc.) One of the items was a pair of swimsuit bottoms. Whether I liked it or not, I watched an elderly woman rip off her bottoms in the pool and hand them to a contestant, and in that moment everyone laughed. Not at her, but with her, and she laughed too. No one rushed to snap a photo, no one scorned her, it was a rare moment of many different kinds of people coming together to appreciate and enjoy a silly moment and to celebrate that we were not at our office jobs where one is expected to keep their clothing on at all times. In one word: Unifying.

Staying and Going: I usually spend at least 5 days at an all inclusive resort. There are many days where I have no purpose other than to relax on the beach or by the pool. But, there are at least two or three days where I sign up for excursions outside the resort. The critique many travel snobs give to all inclusive resorts is that, “you’re not really seeing the country.” That is a choice. In Mexico I’ve swam in cenotes, toured ruins, and passed time at local bars, clubs, and restaurants outside of my resort. In Jamaica I’ve thrown myself into the chaos and throngs of the streets, visited Nine Mile, and swam in the Blue Hole with locals. An all inclusive resort does not limit you from getting out into the country and exploring. If anything, it just gives you the option to rest and recover in the best of ways of the days you are not out there doing the most. If you don’t stay at an all inclusive, you’re almost forced to be doing something every day in my opinion. In one word: adventurous

Doing Nothing is the Popular Option: In NYC, if you spend your day doing nothing, you’re a waste of life. Few able bodied people spend their day doing nothing in the big apple. There is always pressure to be working harder and longer, to be at happy hour, to be at Soul Cycle. Not for me, but for people who actually exercise and shit, the pressure is there. Where else can you go where the popular activity of a place is to DO NOTHING!? Imagine Skyping a friend from Vienna, Uganda, or Colombia and telling them that your agenda for the day is doing nothing but laying down. The whole culture of all inclusive resorts is centered on doing nothing but relaxing! There is zero pressure to always be on the go and I cannot express how refreshing that is! Laying on a sun bed for hours on end is the best free medicine. It is a necessity you probably didn’t even know your body and mind needed until you do it. In on word: relaxing

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Bang for Your Buck: Travel needs to be economical. I’m all for splurging once in a while, but it’s important to be financially responsible. When you have things like children, a mortgage, and bills to worry about, it becomes even more important. Not everyone is willing to live so high beyond their means, and I think that’s a sound principle. An all inclusive resort is often the best way to ensure you do not spend above your budget. Many people see all inclusive resorts as getting their moneys worth considering what you get for the roughly $1,000-$4,000 price tag. That essentially includes a restaurant experience three times a day, quality and comfortable digs, activities, access to things like a gym or fitness classes, booze, in many cases a babysitter for your kids, and if you visit the resort my parents did in the DR, a woman who offers to babysit your husband as well…because she was a hooker. Fun fact, there is no point in your life where your parents talking about anything remotely sexual feels OK. We need to stop perpetuating this myth that people who don’t go to Europe just aren’t trying hard enough. Most of the people screaming at people telling them that “IT CAN BE DONE AFFORDABLY IF YOU JUST STAY IN HOSTELS AND EAT OUT OF DUMPSTERS” are young, able bodied, and without the circumstances that most Americans are subjected to. For many Americans, all inclusives allow for the ability to experience travel without the hefty pricetag while not compromising comfort or quality. In one word: economical

Effortless Cultural Understanding: The people who work in these resorts aren’t actors playing the part of Caribbean or Mexican natives. They really live in these countries, and are often trying to make a better life for themselves. When traveling, it can be hard to meet locals and even more so, to have an in-depth conversation about the way of living and culture of the country. I can only imagine as I’m rushing down the street of NYC, a tourist stopping me to ask me if I can tell them about the culture and way of living in New York. Here, let me show you by throwing my coffee in your face for making me late to work. That’s the culture of big apple in one motion. How does one really have an in-depth conversation with locals if we’re being honest? At an all inclusive, you are constantly interacting with the staff who are themselves authentic locals. Whether you intend to or not, you wind up having conversations with the people who work at the resort as per the nature of folks in the hospitality business and a conversation is actually able to happen much more organically. I remember being hung over and swimming in the pool the day after my wedding listening to two of my guests conversation near me, because I’m a weirdo who listens in. They were discussing how a staff member told them about the low wages many people in Mexico are paid and about the formidable way of life in some parts of the country. “I had no idea about all of that, can you imagine? How can someone live like that?” Two people who don’t travel often at all experienced an effortless moment of learning about another person’s way of life which, as their own words suggest, perhaps changed how they view people outside of their home country. In one conversation, these people were able to reflect on and empathize with the struggles of someone completely different from themselves. In one word: enlightening

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Travel is such a personal experience, the memories we make and the lessons we learn and take away. Travel is joy and growth, it is not a competition, or for one to decide the merit and value of another’s travel experience. The hot new trend in the “travel sphere” is this focus on jungle-esque or beach-esque meditative/spiritual retreats focused on yoga, meditation, eating healthy, etc. The irony. The irony of having someone take photos of you as you meditate and worrying about getting the perfect shot when meditation is about focusing on breath and nothing more. Yoga and meditation is about learning to live and let live, but how many of these “influencers“ so harshly critique themselves, or critique others for staying in an all inclusive resort for a family vacation. The irony, that probably the best place for restoring one’s health, mentally and spiritually, and really letting go, is a place like an all inclusive resort.

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Seville Whispers, “Stay with Me”

Seville. My memories of this part of Andalusia can be summed up in three words. Sweaty, Savory, Sexy. Three words that have no business being side by side, but as anyone who has dared to adventure to Sevilla in the dead of summer can tell you, the combination makes perfect sense.

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Summer is when all of my major trips take place because it is when I have finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel. I get two blissful, joyous, Godly MONTHS off from my career. August is the perfect time to visit some places in Spain (flashback to returned to my hotel in Ibiza at 6a.m., getting kicked out shortly after, and going back to sleep on the beach.) It is unarguably the worst time to visit the south of Spain. The average high weather temperature is 96 degrees Fahrenheit and the air is humid. Enter, sweat. There was no attempt made at looking nice during the daytime in this city. I constantly looked as though I had jumped into a warm, stagnant pool every day I spent there. I smelled like my flight over had been in the under-belly of a plane where only live cattle was kept. If summer is the only time once can visit Seville, would I recommend it anyway? Hell yeah. After all, heat, fire, passion. These are the blood cells of the city. Seville conjures up images of impossibly bright red tomatoes pounded into fiery, garlicky, gazpacho. The mind creates pictures of the crimson skirts and dance shoes of Flamenco dancers, who also sport red roses or carnations in their hair, stomping their feet wildly, forcefully with a furrowed brow while a guitar player sings not only with his voice, but with his heart, or what is left of it after singing a heartbreaking or passionate yard. I myself think of the dry red famed bullring,  the Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla where one feels the radiant energy of both the strong bull and the gallant contender entering the arena to face each other, the fighter knowing and the bull sensing that blood will be shed.

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When I quickly think back to the top three food destinations I’ve been to, Seville, like a burning, crackling, flame quickly following a trail of gasoline, leaps onto the list without question. The sights are favorable, the music is marvelous, the food and drink anywhere in Seville is exceptional. One cannot say they’ve eaten the best meal of their life if it was not eaten in Seville, Spain. Moorish and Middle Eastern influence suffuses nearly every aspect of the history, architecture, and namely, the cuisine. One definitely feels as though he or she is in Spain, but if someone dropped you in the city and did not tell you of your location, Morocco, or other parts of North Africa would not be a far off guess. I remember most vividly on my tongue and in my nose the orange blossoms. This uniquely sweet, tangy, and smooth taste is found in drinks, such as the famed vino neranja or in many foods such as the gelato at the Gelateria Artesana La Fiornetina where the owner was trained in gelato making in Florence and where a host of famous folks have visited. Every tapa ordered has the taste of it having sat in its own marinade and tended to lovingly for hours. Olives taste richly of oil and salt. Beef cheeks are tender, dripping with heavy brown gravy like sauce that melts on your tongue faster than a communion wafer, no need to chew. I recall late one evening, my best friend and I ducking into an establishment with blue, bleacher like steps reserved for eating and drinking. We ordered a simple meal, cheese and jamon with glasses of orange wine. The old men behind the counter called us beautiful in a grandfatherly way as we paid and although they were closing soon, did not rush or speed us along, but instead engaged us in a conversation about our lives and the city. When our plate was brought out to us the combination of food and drink was so exceptional that I was afraid I would begin log rolling down the steps on which we sat, singing in ecstasy. 24 countries and countless cities later, this is still one of my most happiest moments of travel. Another day, we sat at a cafe and indulged in homemade churros. Dipped in chocolate? Ugh, that is so Madrid-ian. We were taught to dip ours in powdered sugar followed by coffee. When I was told that this is a somewhat typical breakfast of Sevillanos, I damn near packed my bags and left my life in New York. That day rounded off with spicy patatas bravas, comforting followed by, so-good-I-need-to-laugh-and-smile tortilla espanola, and to finish, creamy, indulgent, gazpacho.

Seville, above all things, is sexy. A traveler only needs to visit one of the famed Flamenco shows and see the swift hip action of the dancers shooting smoldering looks at the audience while the guitar player sings with his heart in a gritty, sincere, and passionately booming voice to feel the sensuous nature of the city. While the relationship between the large Roma gypsy population and the Spaniards has been disagreeable to say the least, the mysterious and bold culture of the gitanos thrives within the city. If you can imagine a scene of the old caravan gypsies, singing loudly, playing guitar, drinking good wine and smoking seductively while talking closely in some beautiful dark brunette’s ear, you can imagine Seville. While Barcelona and Madrid’s voiced promises of fun and merriment are inescapable and loud, Seville whispers seductively, stay the night and perhaps, a little longer than that, even.

 

OW. How I Cure Hangovers While Traveling

First off, let’s get one thing straight. I HATE that so many female travel bloggers over use hyperbole and exclamation points. I’d like to get my hands on every “ultimate” guide on the internet and use them as bonfire ammo. How arrogant do you have to be to think that anything you’ve crafted is “the ultimate!”? So, I’m not going to call this your “fool proof” or “ultimate” guide to battling hangovers. I’ll just give you my anecdotal instead and hope that is helps.

I have a lot of experience in drinking. One half of my family is Polish, my girlfriends have been known to chug vodka out of a funnel without flinching, and my family and friends through marriage are from the former Soviet Union where, as my father in law states, “mixing anything with vodka is a waste of vodka.” So, yeah. It’s going to take a lot more than a ‘grammable Bellini at lunch to get me feeling giddy. As seasoned in Bloody Mary powder as I am, I tend to suffer excruciating hangovers, the kind where a morphine drip doesn’t seem all too far fetched as a pain reliever.

Hungover mornings usually go like this. Open your eyes, first pain, then panic. The pain? This looks like the room spinning, head throbbing, sweating, feeling as though you might faint, and both physical and mental exhaustion. The panic? WHERE ARE MY KEYS? WHERE IS MY PHONE? WHO DID I CALL?

  1. Resolve the panic. Check to be sure that your important items are in place. Phone, wallet, keys, etc. If they are not, try not to panic. While it sucks and makes you feel irresponsible, remember that these issues are easily resolvable. You can always cancel a credit card, always order a new license, always pay a shit ton of money for a new set of car keys or phone. While it’s inconvenient and expensive, remember that these items are all replaceable and this can happen to the best of us. If you constantly lose things while drinking, you need to get your shit together for your own sake.  NEXT TIME: Make it a habit that when you use the restroom, you quickly check your purse to ensure everything is accounted for and checked. Keep things in the same pockets and places. Don’t bring all of your credit cards/cash out, and don’t bring every key you own out with you.
  2.  The dreaded phone check. Rather than worry over it all day, get it over with right away. See what messages you sent and check your call log. If these messages were not sent by your best self, begin apologizing and mean it. Even innocuous messages like, “OMG! I love you and I’m so glad we work together!” could be seen as annoying if it woke the person up or this is not the type of relationship you have with a co-worker. Be honest. It’s embarrassing, but people appreciate honesty and there’s really nothing they can say to it either if you admit your mistake off the bat. Try, “hello. I’m so sorry for ______. I’ll be honest, I had too much to drink last night and I’m pretty embarrassed of the fact that I _______. I promise you this will never happen again, and once again, I’m sincerely sorry.” NEXT TIME: Delete anyone’s number who you have no business contacting even when sober. Get rid of old friends, ex’s, ex bosses, anyone whose number you no longer need. Thinking about texting someone? Try telling your friends what’s on your mind. Odds are, no matter how inebriated they are, they will try and talk you out of it. Try keeping your phone off so that you only use it during emergencies. Always tempted to repeatedly call or text your ex hook up? Block them for good. It’s not OK for men to stalk women and it’s not OK for women to do it either.
  3. Hydrate and Keep Cool. It’s going to be tempting to fall back in bed or continue sleeping, but the sleep you get will not be of quality. Instead, I recommend drinking at least two bottles of water and sipping slowly. A cold rag on the head ALWAYS helps me and blast the AC if you have it. Bonus points if you remembered to pack Pedialyte or buy Gatorade. Nothing can get resolved if you don’t hydrate!
  4. Ya Smelly. I remember such days when my mother would walk into my room at 11AM and tell me that my room smelled like a liquor distillery. Drinking heavily makes you smelly. Get yourself up and brush your teeth and wash your face. Even that small act will make you feel like an A list celebrity. Jump into the shower (room temp or cold) and scrub away the sweat, alcohol residue, cigarette smoke, and poorly made decisions. Finish with a blast of cold water it’s good for the body and soul. My husband actually finishes every shower like this, but it’s not good for his soul because he doesn’t have one. It’s just a block of ice with a Soviet flag on top.
  5. Release and Replenish. If you need to vomit, do it. I usually feel incredible after the mess in my stomach has finally come up. DO NOT LINGER INDOORS! Head outside and order some greasy ass, carb-heavy, food and don’t forget to pop your pain killer of choice. My favorite morning-after-madness foods include: bacon, eggs, cheese, hash-browns, fries, pasta, and banana shakes. If you order the fruit platter, you’re a psychopath and should seek help immediately. Sometimes it even helps, for me anyway, to have ONE alcoholic drink after eating. It’s more psychological I think. I always make sure it’s one to show myself that I have control over the alcohol and it didn’t win. Also, you don’t want to get drunk and have another hangover so soon.
  6. Nap. This will be the best sleep you ever get in your life. You’re hydrated, satiated, you’ve made an attempt at being a person, recompensed your behavior…you are healthy in mind, body, and spirit, (but definitely not in your liver – that shit’s probably shriveled up.)

Some things to remember. Having too much to drink doesn’t make you a bad person. However, if your behavior while drinking nearly always results in you making decisions that put yourself or others in harm’s way, consider if getting wasted all the time is really something you need to be doing. To be honest, it’s not something anyone needs to be doing. Consider that many medical conditions (I suffer from migraines) are made significantly worse by alcohol. Sometimes it’s necessary to make the choice between drinking a little and enjoying my trip, or getting wasted and ruining it. Logically, there is no reason that having ten drinks is more fun than having three drinks. You’re not in control of the experiences you’re having, and you’re almost guaranteed to waste the entire next day.

My own reflections: In the past year or so, I’ve taken measures to significantly be more responsible about how I drink. I follow every drink with a glass of water and I try to limit myself. I try to hang out in places that match my age demographic like lounges, friend’s new houses/apartments, or social events where the vibe is relaxed and not a pounding down drinks booze fest. I’m nearly six months pregnant and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since August (fun fact, babies don’t like alcohol.)

I can truly appreciate not waking up hungover on the weekend and really feeling in control of my actions and behavior at all times. I often see how people around me are behaving while drunk and while I’m glad they’re having fun, I’m also glad that I am not them in that moment. I think there were times when my anxiety would make me feel as though alcohol were a necessary crutch. Not that I always felt the need to be three sheets to the wind, but,  I needed a glass of wine in my hand to begin a conversation or to be brave enough to tell a joke to a group of people I didn’t know too well. Now, I’ve had to force myself to be bold socially while completely sober and it’s very empowering. It’s been great to know that even sober, people still laugh at my jokes, listen to what I have to say, and enjoy having a conversation. I really like it. I appreciate alcohol, but these past few months have been a blessing in that I’ve been able to re-evaluate my relationship with it as I leap into motherhood and my last year of my 20’s next year. I want to be sure that the best of me, my confidence, my social skills, my ability to articulate genuinely come from my brain and heart and not from Captain Morgan. It makes me feel better as a person to know that I have accomplished these brave endeavors, and no substance has done it for me.

In whatever capacity you drink (or don’t), happy travels! Hoping this helps someone who needed some liquid courage before karaoke on the beach, or is simply suffering the repercussions of spending a holiday with family.  🙂

Traveling While Female…Actually…Life While Female is More Appropriate.

A speedboat drove my best friend and I over to a small fraction of an island for dinner. We were staying at a resort in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia and it was the off season so we were two of four tourists staying at our hotel. It was rather exclusive and so it, and the rest of the world for us were only accessible by boat. The sky and the water around us were pitch black and we remained quiet as the whirring of the motor jetted us over. As many of you know, I suffer from anxiety. I remember having a feeling in my stomach of uncertainty and while I wouldn’t call it fear, something felt wrong. We were alone on a boat with a man we didn’t know, and even though it was his actual career to be peddling tourists around, I felt unsafe. I tried to shrug it off as unnecessary and concocted worry.

The small island had enough land for its sole proprietor, the restaurant, and that was it. I recall immediately feeling uneasy that once our boat left, there was no way off of the island unless a server called us another boat. While its being “limited” look most definitely offered a posh and sought after experience in the high season, it was a real life image of a Stephen King novel in the nighttime during low season. We walked toward the entrance and for ten minutes, did not see a single staff member. A fear began to set in that they might be closed for the season and we were trapped here. However, let’s be honest, I was more afraid of not eating my seventh meal of the day than being alone on the island, at least at this point. A friendly, “dad like” Caribbean man walked out leisurely with a large smile and welcoming eyes. “I’m so sorry about that, we’re slow tonight so I was helping my chefs prepare some food. I do apologize. Please, sit wherever you like.” I, and I’m sure my best friend, exhaled a long and pleasurable sigh of relief. We took a seat by the water and excitedly combed over our menus and wasted no time requesting cold beer. CD (Caribbean dad) went in the back to give us time and space, and we chatted and laughed the same as every dinner together. A beautiful set of firefly lights on string hung over us, and I could thankfully begin to relax and admire the Ian Fleming-esque mansions faintly lit up on the jagged and staggered hills. We ooed and awed talking over the view of the Pitons we had seen at lunch, the hilarious nature of our tour guide that afternoon who had cut coconuts off a large tree for us, and how ridiculous we looked, but how relaxed we had felt at the sulfur baths.

I heard a familiar whirring sound of a raft, but brushed my ear because I believed, or wanted desperately to believe that it were a fly. Actually, only an hour before a flying cockroach had flown into my face and landed on my shirt and I assumed he was back for more. My heart sank, when after brushing my ear maniacally and repeatedly, I pulled it together and realized it was in fact a small motorized raft, and that we were alone on this island without any means of escape or communication. My heart pounded damn near out of my chest and I felt faint knowing, just knowing that our evening was about to take a turn for the worst. Something in the air, in the water, in my heart told me that these were not the other two tourists staying at our resort.

Three rowdy local men jumped off the boat and began smacking the railing with their palms, shouting in French, and walking with heavy feet toward the restaurant and toward us. SO forceful were their bodies, actions, and words that I looked around me once more, with pleading eyes, for a way to escape and there was none. I ripped a butter knife off of the table and dropped it into my purse before hearing a cliche, “Who do we have here?” The three men sat themselves at our table with no invitation to do so, and that is where everything should have been different. “Do you mind if we join you?” One man asked, none of them introduced themselves, none of them smiled, they all reeked of vodka. Hindsight is 20/20 and whenever I consider this encounter I am mad, I am so fucking mad that I didn’t have the strength to say, “Actually, you can’t. Fuck off and go away.” But, you see, every woman, or most women feel the need to be polite in these situations many times. It’s the reason that pervs who follow behind women seldom get their penises wacked with closed umbrellas. It’s the reason sexual assaults go unreported. It’s the reason women, who are blatantly being sexually harassed, smile and do a fake laugh instead of flipping out and calling for help..because the question is pervasive. What if I’m over reacting? What if this is how people get along on this island and I’m just not accustomed? These encounters start out usually, at least for me, in the gray area. Someone follows you down two aisles at Stop N’ Shop, could be a coincidence, should I flip out and look crazy? Should I ignore it? Eventually, that sense of “I can’t overreact and I need to be polite” turn into viable fear of being afraid to speak up or face the consequences. The consequences of society not believing that this happened and that the response you emitted did not match the “supposed” action, or in my case, being overpowered completely. Again, had I really went off, or for that matter even just said, no and his manhood felt threatened from embarrassment or being shut down, would I just be making the situation more dangerous? At a nightclub with 70 other people around, I maybe wouldn’t have thought twice about saying no. Here, alone on the worst version of Gilligan’s Island, I felt I could not.

CD happened to come out to take our orders, and I could cry with happiness. This man, this lovely man would see how obnoxious these guys are and he would tell them them to get lost. CD began screaming at the men in French and waving his hands furiously, while the men mostly hung their heads in what was perhaps embarrassment, but who can know.  One finally said, “This man, the owner, is saying we should leave because we might cost him negative TripAdvisor reviews, he is upset you will write this up on TripAdvisor. Should we leave you?” Classic scenario #2. These men, who seconds before stormed the island like Seal Team Fucking Six now looked like embarrassed school boys whose tough guy act had been sussed out. I began to question my gut. These guys had no way of knowing we already had boyfriends. They’re probably like young men anywhere, a little drunk, out with the boys and trying to pick up girls. Amanda and I, always wanting to interact with the locals, looked at each other and agreed with our eyes that once again, we needed to be polite and say reluctantly, “Yeah, I guess you can sit for a little while.” Let’s revisit CD. Is he wrong? His only concerned seemed to be about his own business and not genuinely how uncomfortable we must feel. But, I’ll leave that to readers to decide.

As we ordered our food, we began to feel embarrassed as the men made remarks each time we added another item to our list. “Mussels!? That’s the most expensive on the menu, you must be rich girls. French fries? You ordered half the restaurant, you must like to eat.” My feelings shifted to anger and annoyance because I don’t care how big and bad you might be, anyone who fucks with my food-eating-experience better have a death wish because you might get it. Have you ever been so annoyed that you get teary eyed? I was frustrated that this experience that I had spent so much money and excited anticipation on was being ruined even for one night. I was annoyed that I just wanted to be alone with my best friend having a girls night and it was ruined and whats-more i felt rude for saying that aloud. Yeah, that was me. I refused to drink my beer because I knew I needed to remain coherent and so I put in an order for water as well. The men all ordered themselves beers.

The man sitting closest to me introduced himself as CD began walking away. “My name is Sniper, you want to know why?” Radical shift of emotions. Again. His voice was deep and unforgiving, his eyes were serious and stern, and glazed from drinking. “People are always trying to shoot at me and kill me, so I protect myself right back. Wherever I go, people try to kill me. I have problems with people in that house right there, they killed my best friend last week, and I’m sure they’re after me now.” He pointed to a far off house. My back was to the water and aside from the restaurant, I couldn’t see too much immediately around me. Sniper’s boat hadn’t even been truly visible until he jumped onto the dock. I couldn’t get up a leave because if he didn’t want me to leave, there was no way I’d be leaving with my life. I thought I had maybe had near death experiences before, but even in that moment, I realized that alone on this island with “Sniper” I might die. This man will kill me or hurt me and I cannot escape. I’m going to be killed.

I sit here looking at my laptop screen trying to capture that exact feeling. I had never felt completely helpless. I’d never been somewhere without an escape. I had never felt more sure of anything in my short life. I felt as though I were counting down the minutes until either he or someone else drove up behind us and shot us all dead. I think numb shock is the only thing that kept me from screaming or crying or fainting. His friend looked at him sideways and began a nonchalant conversation with us after introducing himself. He told us about his job and where he had traveled and which place was his favorite. A half hour later, Sniper had repeated his opening story three more times. “I should probably just be honest and blow his cover in saying that he is absolutely wasted. I’m sorry if he upsets you.” I no longer felt like I was going to be shot to death, but I did not feel safe nor out of the woods yet. The meal was awkward, uncomfortable, and clumsy. In some ways, the sane and sober man was nice to talk to and friendly and helpful. But his friend was SO invasive and horrible, that I wasn’t sure what to feel. The men kept ordering beer and you’ll not be surprised to know that when the check came they all “forgot their wallets” and asked us to pay for their beers with puppy dog eyes. We had had a somewhat OK conversation with at least two of the men as we ate, and again, AGAIN, felt obligated into being polite. Sure, put it on the card. It’s only $10 worth of beer extra. CD telephoned a raft for us, and the men let themselves on saying that they had friends who worked at our resort and wanted to visit them. We had to ride across murky, dark, waters with a host of sketchy men whose intentions were still unclear. Again panic.

Our night turned into an awkward mix of them, yes, them actually being friends with the staff and hanging with them, but also, trying to sit and have drinks and make conversation with us. Several times “Sniper” tried to buy me a drink, or dance with me, or whisper in my ear, or find my Facebook information over the course of three hours. My night was a mix of repeatedly sitting in the bathroom hoping he would leave to him walking away only to sit next to me again. I was so utterly exhausted and sick of being polite that I grabbed Amanda by the hand and cut our night short, a night of fun and dancing that we had paid for, to go lock ourselves in our room because there was no means of escape from them otherwise.

As much as middle aged women will read this and say, “see this is why girls shouldn’t be traveling” this experience was not unique to St Lucia or India or Amsterdam or Spain. It happens everywhere I go in the United States, even in my home town. Recently, I was followed by a man for three blocks in Brooklyn who kept repeatedly telling me I’m pretty. Again, I said nothing of insult to him because of that pervasive question, What if I’m over-reacting? Is it better to flip out or ignore it? Ignoring it feels like I’m saying I’m OK with it, while flipping out…there’s no way I can physically take this guy and I’m all alone. Am I putting myself in danger by escalating the altercation? When I finally did tell him to leave me alone and that I have a husband, he whispered that this would be “our little secret” and ran off. I’ve never been able to walk down that block, or any block alone near my apartment since then. I’ve stopped jogging around my neighborhood and walking to places alone. I time my drives home based on if our secure parking space is available or if my husband is home to meet me at my car. Once on my visit home to Long Island, I went for a run. A man jumped out in front of me, stopping me short, scaring the piss out of me, and began talking to me about the weather. This is my life and life for most women no matter where we go.

Am I saying women cannot be perverse or crazy or creepy? No, of course not. But we seldom hear about the woman who follows a man from the subway to his home licking her lips and touching herself. We seldom hear about the woman who follows a man into his apartment building and assaults him sexually in the elevator. We seldom here about the woman who loads up a super soaker with her genital juice and squirts it at men’s buttocks in Wal-Mart (this actually happened, a man loaded a super-soaker with his semen and did this!) Most recently, I vom in my mouth repeating to you that in the news recently, on a Taiwanese flight, a man coerced a flight attendant into wiping his ass after defecating because he was “handicapped“ later the attendants found out he only did this because it got him sexually aroused. I’m sorry, women just don’t do these things. And for those of you saying shame on the flight attendant for giving in, I get it. But let’s be clear, women of every race and culture and background constantly feel the need to subject themselves to degradation in order to maintain an act of politeness or purely out of fear. Women know that society and the law does not always have their back.

A woman recently shared her outrage towards other women who don’t defend themselves. She stated something to the effect that she’s tired of women acting defenseless when pervs follow them around stores. She urges women to grab anything heavy near them and start getting physical. The sad truth is, unless a man got physical first, a large part of society would condemn her. They would say she acted too impulsively and can’t prove that he was following her. This is why women first almost always have to think Am I over-reacting before thinking of defending themselves. I for one, am fucking sick of it.

Sleepy Hollow – A Pleasing Haunt for Both the Living and the Dead

As a 90’s kid (only 90’s kids will remember, only 90’s kids can do anything of value or significance, only 90’s kids are real humans and everyone else is a robot) I religiously watched all of the Halloween cult classics, namely Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas and Halloween Town. I have fond memories of re-creating my very own cinema inspired Halloween Town in my parents’ basement with my cousins every October. I also have memories of asking my mom what a virgin was after watching Hocus Pocus, but that’s a tale for therapy, not here. As children, we were always enthralled with the idea of there being an otherworldly place entirely devoted to Halloween – full of monsters, skeletons, orange and yellow leaves hanging off of the trees, vampires, candy, and pumpkins for miles.

The search for a real life Halloween town had become diminished significantly over the years, what with being an adult and all, but not completely dissipated. I always found myself looking forward to the new autumn season. It was a promise of new beginnings and adventures as well as the “breaking out“ of the cozy clothes wardrobe. A shift in priorities as a now married individual had resulted in a focus heavier on national travel as opposed to international travel for me. This disappointed me slightly because travel, is and was, how I restore my sanity, plainly put. Travel is how I fix the broken pieces of myself that I often did not realize needed healing until I arrive at my destination. Eliminating travel altogether would never be an option for me, so I considered how to create travel experiences within my means, thus, a visit to Sleepy Hollow, New York for the Halloween season was in order. Short of ghouls, goblins, and getting away from the papers desperately needing grading, I was not sure what to expect, or what I would find. At best, I figured I would get two full days of alone time with my husband, which is rare as we both work full time in demanding professions. I certainly never thought driving an hour past my home would serve any kind of meditative or anxiety easing purpose. The irony I experienced in Sleepy Hollow, during its signature Halloween season was indeed unexpected. In a place that is so laden with skeletons, tombstones, as well as other motifs of death and decay, I felt incredibly alive and able to breathe for the first time in weeks.

The noise and light pollution of New York city gradually faded into the palate of navy blue and gray sky behind us as we drove the one and a half hours (traffic, you know?) to Sleepy Hollow on Friday evening. What strikes one instantly upon arrival, is how far away it feels despite being SO close to the city. A back to nature experience is not something you need to go searching for in this part of New York, it permeates the entire area. On our drive to just about everywhere in the town, we passed lakes, trees performing their most popular act – the changing of the leaves, and woods which seemed to stretch on endlessly. We stayed at a local Days Inn to save money, which was just fine, but definitely would not have surprised me in the least if an ax murderer showed up at our window one night to do his thing. The rooms and buildings were disconnected and not within a single building, that is to say, you had to step outside to get from one room to the next. It was in a small, quiet, area and as my husband stated, “This is nice, but I prefer hotels where everything is safely inside a building.” The feeling of being in an unfamiliar and remote location combined with the now blackened sky curtaining around us left us wondering if this were all part of the “spooky” experience. We did a quick unpacking of our belongings, and we were off on our 48 hours adventure.

 

 

 

 

Haunted Highlights:

* Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Classic Evening Lantern Tours)A tour of the cemetery by LANTERN LIGHT! This was a truly unique, spooky, and informative event which damn near FORCED us to be in the spirit for Halloween. The stories and history about the people buried in the tombs – particularly one about a missing arm- that our group stopped at along the way were fascinating and highly entertaining. Such famous people as some Rockerfellers, Andrew Carnegie, and Washington Irving himself are buried at the Sleepy Hollow cemetery. We also visited the cemetery in the afternoon the next day and found it to be tranquil and beautiful, I have already declared to my husband and parents proudly and loudly that I would like to be buried there some day to which are SO many opinions. Namely, “who the hell is going to visit you up there?” from my father, Steven Soprano. The cemetery’s purpose was and is to function as both a place of relaxation for visiting families as well as an outdoor art exhibit which is why perhaps it is so popular. It is more awe-inspiring than it is a reminder of dying.

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*Irving’s Legend – Old Dutch Church Without a single doubt, the highlight of our trip. Here, you get to visit the original Dutch Church where Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place. Without the use of fancy movie equipment, the story teller does a ridiculously good job of engaging his audience in the thrilling tale, leaving each guest on the edge of their seat as well as doubled over in laughter several times. As a teacher, I could only aspire to be half as entertaining. The howling wind rustles the windows and squeaky floors of the original 1600’s Dutch church as the story teller performs nothing short of real life magic for all to see. I was contented to see that not a single phone was taken out, not a whisper uttered from one guest to another, that with his pure talent, he was able to capture the heart and full attention of all in the room for the duration of his performance. Book early because these performances fill up fast!

The graveyard behind the Old Dutch Church is a slice of American history, with some tombstones dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War (these are marked with a placard and an American flag.) Of course, there are homemade treats to be purchased (cider, beer, donuts, candy) while you stroll around. Try all of them and have no regrets about doing so.

(Ignore my lack of a neck in the photograph, horsemen must have gotten to it.)

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Fare Finds: We encountered several impromptu markets, fares (including a psychic fare!), and drives while we explored for the weekend. Spoiler alert, I didn’t go to the psychic fair because it would horrify my Italian-Catholic mother…womp. However, we did find an awesome scene happening at the Union Church where we purchased over 20 books in brand new condition for a mere 20 dollars! In keeping with the spooky spirit, my husband reminded me that these were a steal considering I often will pay $70 for a mere five books at Barnes and Noble. The realization left me turned white, as if I had seen a ghost…the ghost of remembrance of my last credit card statement.

The Un-Silent PictureA crowd of people fill into a giant tent in front of a projector screen where a live band sits to the left, and a skilled sound magician sits to the right. The black and white film begins and is about an hour long. It is completely silent, and the sound technician and band provide sound effects and music to correspond perfectly to the events happening with the movie. I had never seen a silent film before and my experience felt like a trip back in time to a period I often obsess over, the 1920’s. The film was eerie in some respects, yet light-hearted in others, with more moments of laughter than suspense. The acting was superb and I feel that this event is far underrated.

* Sunnyside – Washington Irving’s Estate: I am unashamedly a literary and historical nerd. As such, I was very content that we were able to spend some time at Washington Irving’s former estate, Sunnyside. It is an idyllic and picturesque home situated right on the Hudson River. The staff are all dressed in period clothing and created a whole-hearted immersive experience explaining his life and inspiration for his work with enthusiasm. While it seems small from the outside, the home inside was cozy, impressive, and felt as though it had been perfectly preserved. You are not allowed to walk about freely, at each room a costumed host tells you of how Irving would have lived and what he enjoyed doing in each location of the house. I was admittedly not aware of just how much of a literary giant that Irving was until I visited. His Sunnyside estate was a featured painting in nearly every American home of the 1800s. Irving knew Romantic big wigs such as Mary Shelley (who pursued him as a love interest!) and Charles Dickens, who actually came to visit the home. As the story goes, Dickens was so fond of Irving’s 93 year old relative, Ebeneezer, that he may well have been Dickens’ inspiration for creating A Christmas Carol. I was floored that such an important literary site was so close to my home. Irving and his work are renowned around the world and his legendary work featuring the headless horseman has permeated every form of media both nationally and internationally. Sunnyside is a true treasure which takes you back in time and makes learning about this American legend’s life rousing . Highly recommend!

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Food Finds

Breakfast, ashamedly, was not something we partook in during any of our days in Sleepy Hollow. However, these places…THESE places…could stand tall against anywhere in the Big Apple!

Pik Nik – If you want to weigh your options of where to eat, then don’t even come in here looking for a menu to “browse.” Once you smell what’s cooking at this retro BBQ joint, you won’t leave. It is a “come to the counter” ordering system which allows you to see many of the sides offered on display before you choose them. We ordered the pulled pork, potato salad, kale salad to put on the appearance of being healthy, and mac and cheese. If you go somewhere, and the side option includes mac and cheese, then that is what you pick, or else you’re an objectively awful human. The atmosphere does a fantastic job of making you feel as though you’ve wandered off the back woods of a southern road trip into some small feckless, yet charming town with banging food. The wait for your food is average, enough time that you know its actually being cooked with a personal touch, and not so long that you’re gnawing your arm off as an impromptu appetizer. Pay attention to the music and jam out as you wait, it’s an impossibly impressive mix of classic rock and roll. As expected, the mac and cheese, as well as all of its friends accompanying it were delicious and left us full enough to hate ourselves, which earns my applause. A job well done, unique, and highly recommended to all.

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Horsefeathers – A classic. Horsefeathers is the popular girl in town and rightly deserves the title. It’s a cozy, dimly lit tavern style eatery (which really puts one in the fall/Halloween spirit) with delightful staff, lively guests, and a dizzying array of mainly comfort food options. Having visited Rockerfeller’s grave earlier, I was inspired, and so splurged and ordered the Alaskan king crab legs with drawn butter which, I admit, I still dream about one week later. (Don’t judge me until you’re ready to share what YOU dream about.) My husband, the half of us with self control, ordered a healthy, California style burger with avocado and all the green things. The beers were pouring, the chatter was loud and the laughter even louder. It’s an exceptional place for a date, with friends, or for a family. I don’t feel that my words nearly do it justice, and I was too shy to take a photo because it was PACKED, but something about sitting in low lighting, eating feel good food with warm faces all around felt so…right. It was a good reminder that I was indeed, despite being an hour away, NOT home anymore, and that I should let my hair down and enjoy the “all are welcome” attitude and merriment. Horsefeathers is a great way to start a weekend in Sleepy Hollow, it will get you into the spirit almost immediately.

Guadalajara – KNOCK OUT Mexican food and atmosphere. The wall near the bar is full of famous people…although…it’s actually unclear to me if these celebs have actually eaten there, or if the staff just put their photos up because they like these people. BUT, if those framed faced HAVE NOT eaten here, they’re wrong. The food is fresh, rich, and you for sure get your bang for your buck as far as portions go. The guacamole and fried ice cream are made table side, the margaritas are giant/will knock you on your ass, and the queso fundido is absolutely my last meal if I ever wind up on death row. I would drive from Brooklyn, to Sleepy Hollow, JUST for that dish alone. The staff is quick on their feet, pleasant, and the restaurant itself is warm, spacious, and inviting. There is outdoor seating in the front for when the weather is nice. I tried finding a website with a menu online, but it evidently doesn’t exist? Just live a little and go without cross examining the menu beforehand. You won’t regret it.

What I learned/Verdict: Traveling is not about getting the farthest away. A lot of times, it’s more about going closer, closer to your own self than you have ever been. The pace of life in Sleepy Hollow was relaxed, the stars iridescent at night, and the world more spacious. Before this trip, I had been working myself ragged. On top of this, I had recently found out I was pregnant. I had been staying up at night to complete assignments, working on weekends, and falling asleep to and waking up to full blown panic attacks which I hadn’t experienced in several months prior. I’m not one of those people who wants to run out on New York and “quit my 9-5 to go remote.” I like working hard and long hours in the city that never sleeps, not many people have that opportunity. I’m deeply satisfied to have a foot long to-do list and to check the items off one by one. I get a high from that feeling of being bone tired, and peeling oneself out of bed at 5 a.m. after falling into bed at 12 a.m. and subsisting on coffee after coffee. Sometimes, as was the case before this trip, I don’t even realize how much damage I do to myself when I get into a cycle of work, sleep, packed out weekend with events and extra work, repeat. Like a hamster on a wheel, I keep going and going running myself in circles until the next break from teaching. When I arrived in Sleepy Hollow and really took in the vastness, I remember feeling my shoulders soften for the first time in weeks. My constantly congested head felt as if someone gently put a pin in it and released all of the racing thoughts and massive tension within it. For two days and three nights I was free to do whatever I pleased. I woke up whenever I wanted, ate whatever I wanted (except for that blasted kale salad which could have been a carb.), attended events and site seeing at my leisure and on a whim, and stayed up late watching scary movies and catching up, yes, having face to face conversation with my husband. After the weekend was finished, I noticed a visceral change in my posture, facial expressions, mood, and mind. I was recharged and refreshed in a way that my body desperately needed. I made the realization that this type of weekend is why I work, and I need to be cognizant of priding myself on “living to work“ so much that I run myself down, it’s not good for me, nor anyone as much as it might feel good to be a “hard worker.” My anxiety was significantly better after the weekend as was my sleep and stress levels. In addition to recharging my batteries, I reconnected with a silly little dream of mine since I was small, to find a real Halloween town. To find a place filled with magic, mystery, and coziness where one can enjoy the kid-like perk of no legitimate responsibilities, just fun…and a ton of candy.

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