Месечни архиви: December 2016

My Favorite Reads of 2016

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Used Bookstore Hay-on-Wye

2016 was the year that my reading habits changed significantly. Casual reading no longer satisfies me. These days, a book either needs to feature excellent writing or teach me something new, or it won’t hold my interest. I used to need to alternate between heavier books and lighter reads; now I enjoy going from heavy to heavy.

This year, I read a lot about race, class, and privilege in America. This is some of the deepest and most meaningful reading I have ever done, and I feel like a completely different person from who I was at the beginning of the year.

As usual, interesting themes began to appear as the year went on.

On slavery, its horrors and escaping: The Underground Railroad, Homegoing, Grace, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass.

On social mobility and entering a new world through attending university: Between the World and MeThe Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Make Your Home Among Strangers, Hillbilly Elegy.

On 1970s Bay Area counterculture: The Girls, American Heiress.

When I wrote about my favorite reads of 2015 last year, I was struck by how few of the books were published that year. It seemed a bit ridiculous to publish a “best of the year” list from primarily older books.

And this year I made a bigger effort to read new releases. This year I’ll be sharing my favorite novel and nonfiction book published in 2016, as well as all of the other books that were my favorites of the year, listed in no particular order.

The Underground Railroad

My Favorite Novel Published in 2016: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Easily one of the most lauded novels of 2016, The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, an escaped slave who traverses the Underground Railroad — which in this book is reimagined as an actual underground railroad. At each stop, it seems like Cora has finally found safety and peace, or as much as safety and peace as she can hope for, until her life is shattered once again.

What affected me the most about this book was thinking about how the people with power control the narrative. Could there have been an actual underground railroad? There very well could have because white people have always held the power and if they didn’t know about it, it wasn’t the dominant narrative. It makes me sad for how much has been lost to history because the people with the least power were the only ones who witnessed it. (This is a very good book to read in the age of Trump.)

This book is hallucinatory and creative and the edges between fantasy and reality are deeply blurred. But the book has several overarching themes, just like Homegoing (which you’ll read about below). The biggest? Escaping slavery was only the beginning. Whether the horrors were experienced during Cora’s solitary journey or spread out along multiple generations like in Homegoing, they were there, they are still there, and they are one of the most shameful chapters of our country’s history.

American Heiress

My Favorite Nonfiction Book Published in 2016: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin

I went into reading this book knowing nothing about Patty Hearst except that she was kidnapped and forced to rob banks in the 1970s. That couldn’t have been a better way to go into reading American Heiress. Knowing so little about the story made it all the more exciting — and this story was absolutely bonkers.

Patty Hearst, a 19-year-old heir to the Hearst publishing fortune, was kidnapped by a group of young radicals called the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. After a period of time, she began to believe in their cause and decided to join the group as they robbed banks and planned bombings. It took years before the police were able to track her down. Also, a shootout with the SLA was the first live news event ever to air on TV. How crazy is that?

I’ve read Jeffrey Toobin’s work before, but I have not enjoyed a single book this much since The Martian. It was a wild, insane, dense, satisfying ride and I’ve been discussing Patty Hearst with everyone I talk to since then.

Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)

This is one of the powerhouse novels of 2016, but I couldn’t believe that Homegoing is Ghanaian-American author Gyasi’s first novel. She’s in her twenties. You would expect a book this intricately and emotively written to be the crowning lifetime achievement of a much older author.

Homegoing tells the story of two half-sisters in what is now Ghana. One is sold into slavery; the other is married to a slaver and stays in Africa. The book goes on in vignettes, telling stories of a family member on each side over the course of seven generations, lasting into the present day. In Africa, the characters wrestle with war, kidnappings, mental illness, the long-term effects of colonialism. In America, the characters struggle with slavery, imprisonment, Jim Crow, the heroin epidemic.

There is a belief held amongst some Americans that injustices against black Americans ended with the abolition of slavery. This book is the single best example I’ve ever seen of showing different forms of black bondage being replaced, one after the other, with the same goal of keeping them second-class citizens. (Today, it’s most clearly manifested in our criminal justice system.) Illustrating injustice through the empathetic form of fiction is, in my opinion, the most noble thing a novel can do. Everyone needs to read this book, but the people who need to read it most will not do so.

Read Homegoing in tandem with The Underground Railroad. They share a lot of the same themes.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)

When I moved to Harlem, I made an effort to read more books by Harlem authors, and I discovered a masterpiece. It blows my mind how much Malcolm X was overlooked in school when I was growing up — I knew so little about him when I started the book — and The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of the most powerful self-told stories I have ever read.

So many things touched me that I didn’t expect. His discovery of dance (which he found in Boston!) and his love for Harlem. His days in prison, following an arrest for robbery, which he spent reading books every hour of every day. Finding religion in the Nation of Islam and just how intense that organization was. And how he was widely, erroneously reported to be a terrorist until he was gunned down.

This is also one of the best travel memoirs because of how much it changed his point of view. Malcolm X believed that the races were off segregated and gave speeches to this effect — until he went to Mecca, joyfully worshipped with Muslims of every color and background, and declared that he had been wrong all along.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs (2015)

No book ripped me open to my soul as much as The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Robert Peace grew up in a rough area of Newark, surrounded by drugs and violence, but he was incredibly intelligent. Between the hard work he and his mother did, he got himself into a private prep school and, eventually, Yale. A few years after graduation, however, he was murdered in a drug dealing dispute. This book, written by his college roommate, seeks to answer, “Why?”

And for me, that “Why?” was filled with agony. Even knowing that Rob ends up dead, I felt sick seeing it unfold slowly. And I’m still trying to figure out how it happened. Rob was anything but a burnout; even after college, he kept his life at home and built himself communities in Rio and Croatia. He dealt drugs for the money; he worked as a baggage handler for the travel privileges. He always had an end plan, but it was just out of his grasp.

Did Yale fail him? Could his death have been avoided if he had a mentor? Would he have moved on if he hadn’t been fiercely loyal to his family and friends? Who can be blamed for this?! We’ll never know. And that hurts. But perhaps this book will give us the steps to prevent other kids in Rob’s extraordinary position from going down the same path.

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007)

I discovered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last year and two of her books, Americanah and Purple Hibiscus, were on my list of favorites last year. This year, she cemented her status as one of my favorite writers as I read Half of a Yellow Sun, a tale of war and the short-lived republic of Biafra in what is now Nigeria.

What I love most about Adichie’s books are her characters. With the possible exception of Ifemelu, the protagonist in Americanah, Adichie writes characters that I love so much that I want to hug them and listen to them tell their life stories. Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of an extended family and the important people in their lives as they go from a comfortable middle-class existence to living through war, kidnappings, and starvation. By the time I finished, I was still thinking about those characters and how much I loved them.

I think it’s good to read a book about a period in time that you know nothing about. I never had a clue about Biafra and I’m so glad I know about it now.

Shrill

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)

I’ve been a big fan of Lindy West’s writing since her horrific and pants-shittingly hilarious viral review of Sex and the City 2. Shrill was an easy purchase, and it’s one of the best collections of essays I’ve ever read. The funny, truthful stories touch on everything from feminism and the media to body image and life as a plus-size woman to cyberbullying.

This year I read a lot of memoirs and essay collections by celebrities (Shonda Rimes, Amy Schumer) and internet celebrities (Luvvie Ajayi, Mark Manson). In nearly every case, the books were disappointingly uneven with some stronger essays and some weak ones. Not this book. West was the only exception. Every story in this book is razor-sharp and meaningful, whether funny or serious. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch.

I wanted to cheer when I finished this book because I feel like West and I want to see the same kind of world emerge in our lifetimes someday.

Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker (2015)

It’s always a nice surprise when an actor you enjoy turns out to be a fantastic writer, and not of the fun-time-memoir variety. Mary-Louise Parker is my latest example, and Dear Mr. You is a phenomenal collection of stories that blur between poetry and prose.

Each letter in the book is addressed to an important man in her life. To former lovers. To family members. I absolutely love how she writes each story — it’s ambiguous enough that you can’t quite figure out who is who, so if you’re looking for juicy Billy Crudup gossip, you won’t find it here. In fact, this writing style inspired me when I wrote my 10 Love Stories post.

And this is a book with a great ending. The final letter to a final Mr. You is perfect.

The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante (2008)

Last year, I discovered Elena Ferrante and Neapolitan Novels, which are now some of my favorite books of all time. This year, I delved in deeper to her other works. The Lost Daughter was my favorite. This wisp of a novella has everything that I love about Ferrante’s work: deeply uncomfortable introspection (but not on the level of some of her other books), keen observations of family dynamics, and the ferocity of Naples.

Leda is a divorced, new empty nester in her late 40s and she takes a trip to the seaside near Naples. While there, she observes a young mother with her daughter and ruminates on motherhood, including what some would consider an unforgivable act she committed while her daughters were young. That same impulse drives her to commit another act on the beach at night.

I love short, tight books that don’t waste a single word. (Movies, too. That’s why the 87-minute Dodgeball is one of my favorite comedies.) This book is perfect.

Swing Time

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (2016)

Two girls grow up in the housing projects of northwest London. Both from underprivileged backgrounds. Both biracial. And both with an insatiable love for dance — but only one is talented enough to make it professionally. While I’ve been wanting to read Zadie Smith’s books for quite some time, Swing Time was the first one I picked up, and it won’t be the last.

I’ve been reading a lot about female friendship — the deep love and furtive hate, the competition and sabotage and loyalty and cruelty. The best novels about female friendship are undoubtedly Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. But Swing Time covers female friendship in a different direction — still with lots of highs and lows, but with the difference of raw talent vs. perseverance and nature vs. nurture. The book goes to places I did not remotely expect.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was its depiction of London. Cold, sophisticated and rough, yet familiar and welcoming, like the soft gray blanket you should probably get rid of but sits at the foot of your bed anyway.

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016)

It’s the book that everyone is talking about: “Read Hillbilly Elegy to understand why Trump won the election.” I wouldn’t go that far, as the book is much more a personal memoir and hardly dives into politics at all. I will say this: this book highlights a population that is underrepresented and misunderstood in American culture.

The “hillbilly” culture, a term Vance uses with pride and ownership, is only one segment of white working class voters that were power players in the 2016 election. But what a culture. I knew very little about the people who grew up in Appalachia and left for factory jobs in places like Ohio. I had no idea that violence was pervasive throughout the families, generation after generation, that education was so poor, and that so many of them had fallen to opioid addiction.

Don’t expect this book to give you a eureka moment or give you further insight into the election. But do use this book to learn about and empathize with a segment of the population who has had it very rough in the last few decades.

Without You There Is No Us

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim (2015)

No other country on the planet is more closed off to outsiders than North Korea. Most of the North Koreans that outsiders meet have escaped after imprisonment. But what about the ruling elites? They are perhaps the greatest mystery of all.

Suki Kim went undercover and got to see North Korea’s most privileged class close-up. In Without You, There Is No Us, she tells her account as a teacher at a university. She could trust no one. Her every move was monitored. Her students were earnest and childlike, yet lied with cheer and alacrity. Throughout this book I had the unsettling feeling that I was being watched — not unlike what I’m sure Kim felt 24/7 during her time teaching in Pyongyang.

Anyone who has a passing interest in North Korea should read this extraordinary book. For me, it confirmed my decision to not visit North Korea. At this point in time, I believe there is no ethical way to do so.

What’s Next for 2017?

I’ve decided to throw myself back in and take on Popsugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge! The challenge looks more difficult than 2015’s.

I’ve also given myself additional parameters: every month I will read at least one novel, at least one work of nonfiction, at least one book published in 2017, and at least one book by a person of color. I’ve also identified the twelve toughest categories (like “a book with more than 800 pages” — eek!) and will conquer one tough category per month so I won’t be overwhelmed.

Unlike last time on the challenge, I’m going to make an effort to read books I want to read first and seeing where they fit in rather than picking them out based on the category.

Some books I’ve got my eye on for 2016: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond; Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher; Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton; White Teeth by Zadie Smith; Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah; and perhaps Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow or David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (gotta get that 800-page book somehow!).

What was your favorite book of 2016? How do you choose what to read? Share away!

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My Worst Travel Moments of 2016

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Kate in Bushwick

It’s time for everyone’s favorite post of the year — my worst travel moments! And I love writing this post every year. I think it’s important to reflect the not-so-pleasant times along with the happier moments, and I think that reflects in my coverage here.

In 2012, I drove my car into a ditch in the Faroe Islands.

In 2013, I was extorted for my phone in Cambodia.

In 2014, I got head lice at the age of 29 in New Orleans.

In 2015, I locked myself in a vestibule with a cockroach in Sicily.

Now, what’s up for 2016? Let’s take a look!

Newbury Street, Boston

Starving on the Greyhound Bus to Boston

My sister and I were traveling home to Boston for the Fourth of July. She had already booked a Greyhound bus; I vastly prefer the Megabus, but decided to book the same Greyhound so we could go together.

I don’t like Greyhound because 1) they overbook buses all the time 2) Port Authority, from where the buses leave, is one of my least favorite places on the planet. It’s like a bizarre 90s time warp where technology doesn’t exist, down to the lack of both wifi and phone service. I avoid it whenever possible.

It was the morning and we stopped at a cafe in our neighborhood for some coffee and scones. We sipped the coffee but saved the scones, even though I was ravenous. I have this thing where I can’t eat until I’m perfectly settled and comfortable. I knew I wouldn’t touch it until the bus left the station.

Sarah had booked her bus long before I had, so she had an earlier boarding number. She got on the bus with all the food and held a seat for me.

You can see where this is going.

Sarah’s bus was overbooked, because it was Greyhound. They filled it and it took off. And because Port Authority has neither wifi nor phone service, she couldn’t alert me. She left with all the food.

I felt like crying as I got on my own bus, nothing to eat but gum for the next five hours. The good thing was that after an hour or so, my hunger went into the next level and disappeared entirely.

Passau Christmas in Bavaria

My First Concussion in Germany

This is one of the more serious injuries I’ve experienced while traveling. One night my friend Cailin and I were snapping each other back and forth, playing with the new feature that allows you to create a sticker out of anything.

I snapped myself falling backward onto the bed, but I miscalculated — I hit my head hard on the corner of the bed frame.

(Yes, it was caught on video. Yes, I deliberated sharing it publicly, but sent it to Cailin and Cailin alone. Her comment: “That was a loud thud!”)

I felt fine over the next 20 hours or so. But after that, on the train back to Munich, I started feeling nauseous and a bit dizzy, and a strong headache came on. I couldn’t help but think of Natasha Richardson, who died after hitting her head while skiing (and who felt fine immediately afterwards but took a turn for the worse later). After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go to the hospital.

The hospital experience was surprisingly decent. I was seen fairly promptly, was given a CT scan (which had zero abnormalities), and though it costs 300 EUR ($311) for people without EU health insurance to visit the ER, I’ll be refunded it from World Nomads, my travel insurance provider. This is one of the millions of reasons why you need travel insurance!

Recovery has taken longer than I expected, but I’ve started to have full days without any headaches, dizziness, or nausea. That’s a big step!

Inverness

Lost Luggage in Scotland

It was a simple nonstop flight from JFK to London Gatwick, but my bag (and lots of other passengers’ bags) didn’t make it. I’ve had lost luggage before, but it was always delivered within 24 hours. Not this time.

This time, Norwegian had no clue where it was.

That’s what made it awful. I hated being at a conference in no makeup and subpar clothing (I supplemented my meager wardrobe with a few M&S finds) but the worst thing was the uncertainty. Would they even find it in time for my trip to Wales? What about Slovakia after that?! It was a simple nonstop flight!

Finally, after two and a half days, I got word that not only had they found it, but it was already in Inverness! I hightailed it to the airport and picked it up with glee.

Between being on the phone constantly with Norwegian, having to buy clothes and toiletries before the shops closed (5:30 PM in Inverness) and having to pick it up at the airport, 30 minutes away, I missed a ton of the conference. But at least everything arrived before I had to go to Wales. And I was dressed to the nines for the final evening.

Kruger National Park

Dropping My Phone in the Toilet in South Africa

All this time, I’ve gotten through life without dropping my phone in the toilet. Until South Africa this summer.

I totally forgot I had put my phone in my back pocket…until I heard the telltale plop.

BUT IT SURVIVED. And you know why? Because I use a LifeProof case. Even though the bottom tabs were open, my phone survived the dip in the toilet without incident. That’s incredible.

AND THE TOILET WAS CLEAN. I feel like I need to add that.

French Laundry Gardens

The Worst Press Trip Companion Ever

I’ve met a lot of people in the travel blogging industry. I’ve gone on press trips with well over 100 people. Most people are decent. Perhaps the top 20% are awesome. And you get a few unpleasant people every now and then. But one woman I met this year was the absolute worst.

It started with, “Well, I hope he at least bought you a drink after,” when I talked about a really nice date I had gone on that happened to not cost anything. It escalated to wanting to pose for selfies with an immigrant worker as a prop in the background. And then came, “We don’t like black guys.”

Looking back, it’s not surprising that this happened in 2016. If anything, the 2016 presidential election emphasized that many reasonable-appearing people will secretly engage in racist behavior. This woman was yet another example.

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA Sunset Roebuck Bay

Getting My Bank Account Depleted for Fraud Reasons

I won’t say where this took place or who it involved, but it started when a company paid me a good-sized check for a campaign. I don’t like getting paid by check, but sometimes it’s necessary.

The check arrived the day before I was to leave on a big trip. I deposited it with my phone. A few hours later, I got the notification that my bank had accepted it. Lovely. I then did my usual routine: shifted funds to different accounts and left enough money in my account to cover the trip. I then got on my plane and flew to another continent.

Several days into that trip, my debit card wasn’t working. I opened my email and realized that the client had voided all of their outgoing checks for fraud reasons — several days after it had been deposited in my account with no issues. “Just go back to the bank with the same check and they should be able to do it again,” I was told.

I immediately got on the phone with the client and got them to issue a transfer through their bank, which I was grateful for.

But I learned my lesson. And this is one that I hope you learn too. Even several days after a check is deposited and accepted by your bank, it can still be removed from your account if the sending bank issues a fraud alert. I’m going to be much more cautious with my checks in the future.

Coral Bay Sunset

Spilling My Diva Cup in Australia

Yeah, this definitely falls into TMI territory. While in Coral Bay, I dropped a full Diva Cup for the first time ever in my six years of using one — and it spilled all over my clothes. Blood was everywhere.

Savannah Bonaventure Cemetery

Getting Haunted by Little Gracie in Savannah

It was my second visit to the very haunted city of Savannah, but my first trip to Bonaventure Cemetery. While there, I came across the grave of Little Gracie.

Little Gracie died of pneumonia at the age of six. Her father owned a hotel and she was a local celebrity, charming every guest who came in.

After she died, her parents buried her at Bonaventure and left town. People say that Little Gracie’s ghost can be seen wandering through town, looking for her parents.

I stood at the gate and made eye contact with the statue. And then something hit me in the chest and went all the way to my back. It was almost like a massive gust of wind whooshing into me. I felt so much fear in that moment and was desperate to find my friend so I wouldn’t be alone.

Something happened that day. I think Little Gracie’s ghost made an attempt to communicate with me. And I didn’t like it.

Bo-Kaap Cape Town

The Worst Uber Ride in Cape Town

I love Cape Town, and South Africa in general, but you need to be on your guard there constantly. One issue is driving at night. Carjacking is still a risk in parts of South African cities. Locals know which areas to avoid; when you’re a visitor, you have no idea. I had no idea.

After doing trivia at Oblivion, Beth and I summoned an Uber to take us home. And as soon as we got in, it was clear that the driver had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t know how to navigate with the Uber system. He almost went into the wrong lane and had to back up. He suddenly hit the breaks, his manual car jerking wildly, then he stayed in place. One minute passed. Then another.

I was scared to death. Not only that, I was trying to hide my fear so Beth wouldn’t be scared.

“You need to get us out of here now,” I told him.

“Yes! Yes! Just one minute, please!”

“No. You need to go NOW. Take us back to the bar.”

He couldn’t even figure out how to get back to the bar. I had to navigate him.

After that, we switched to only summoning from UberX, which sources from professional drivers. It cost twice as much as regular Uber but was still very economical in South Africa.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Accidentally Drinking Undiluted Rum in Puerto Rico

And there was the time I went to the Don Q distillery in Puerto Rico, tasted lots of rums, and I made the grievous mistake of reaching for the wrong glass and drinking undiluted rum.

Undiluted rum.

I’m surprised I still have my teeth enamel.

What was your worst travel moment of the year? Share away!

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Christmas in Bavaria in 25 Photos

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Kate in Passau Christmas in Bavaria

This year I achieved a long-held travel dream: visiting Christmas markets in Germany. It’s crazy that I haven’t done this until now!

I remember visiting my first German Christmas market, albeit in another country — it was during my semester in Florence in 2004. The market was set up a two-minute walk from my apartment on Piazza Santa Croce. I was flabbergasted that a market this wonderful would set up. My eight roommates and I went for sausages for dinner; we bought chocolate-covered fruit on a stick; we bought crafts for gifts. I pretended to be as excited about chocolate-covered bananas as they were. (Still not a fan of banana and chocolate together today.) Strangely, I don’t think we ever consumed gluhwein.

And I continued to visit markets elsewhere — the UK’s largest market in Birmingham; all the markets in Paris. But Germany remained elusive until this year. I knew I wanted to come to Germany for Christmas and soon I got the opportunity to come to Bavaria and do some content creation work for the German National Tourism Board.

Bavaria is a large southeastern region of Germany that includes Munich. This is a very traditional and beautiful part of Germany with gingerbread-like small towns, beer gardens, lederhosen, dirndls, cuckoo clocks and Oktoberfest. However, Bavaria is like Texas in that what many people think are German stereotypes are actually Bavarian stereotypes.

(Case in point: A friend texted me “Conan’s in Bavaria too!” while I was there. “No, he’s in Berlin and doing Bavarian things,” I told him. “That’s like traveling to New York and learning how to rope cattle.”)

So, how was it? I absolutely loved it. It was such a relaxed and chilled out trip. Though I was working the whole time, most of the trip was built around browsing markets, eating delicious food and drinking gluhwein (German mulled wine). It was also a reminder that Christmas doesn’t have to be as kid-oriented as it is in America — in Europe, these markets are for the adults!

I won’t be publishing a full guide to planning a Bavarian Christmas market trip just yet — it’s not practical to do that a few days before Christmas. I’m saving that guide for next September or so, when you guys are actually planning Christmas trips. But for now, enjoy a taste of this beautiful region of Germany at its most festive time of year.

Family Christmas in Bavaria

I started off exploring the markets at Marienplatz in Munich. I love how they brought families together!

Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen (gingerbread)! Don’t make an amateur error and eat these ones, however — they are mainly for giving and receiving as gifts.

Christmas in Bavaria

Handmade ornaments can be found wherever you go. I love how it looks like the snowman is clapping for him!

Gluhwein Man Christmas in Bavaria

This gluhwein-serving man has discovered the secret to happiness: find what you love and do it for the rest of your life. For him, it’s serving various Christmas beverages to foreigners at the market.

Nuremberg Christmas in Bavaria

If there’s any city in Bavaria you must visit during Christmas, it’s Nuremberg (Nürnberg), the grandaddy of all Christmas markets. It’s the oldest, the largest, and the wares are all handcrafted.

Fig People Christmas in Bavaria

These fig people were surprisingly omnipresent throughout Bavaria.

Nuremberg Christmas in Bavaria

There are winding streets in Nuremberg that are decked out like they’re from a past century.

Nuremberg Mother and Child Christmas in Bavaria

I love this shot of a mother and daughter!

Nuremberg Christmas in Bavaria

My favorite shot is of Nuremberg at night…

Nuremberg Christmas in Bavaria

And it’s just as beautiful by day as well!

Bamberg Christmas in Bavaria

Bamberg is a lovely town 30 minutes from Nuremberg. This is the most famous vantage point in the city!

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Heidelbeer gluhwein and käsespätzle — blueberry mulled wine and cheesy noodles topped with fried onions.

Christmas in Bavaria

I wouldn’t be able to sleep with these in my room.

Nuremberg from Above Christmas in Bavaria

You can see how big the Nuremberg Christmas market is here! I happened to love it, but lots of locals told me they preferred smaller, less congested markets.

Regensburg Christmas in Bavaria

Regensburg was my next stop. This small city felt very Italian to me, and not just because it was full of espresso bars!

Regensburg Christmas in Bavaria

Regensburg is on the Danube, making it a popular stop on river cruises.

Romantic Market Regensburg Christmas in Bavaria

Regensburg also had the only market where I had to pay to get in — the Romantic Market, which cost 6.50 EUR ($7). It was absolutely lovely inside, but I’m not sure I’d pay for any other market!

Passau Christmas in Bavaria

Next up was Passau, another city on the Danube. It definitely won for the quirkiest and most interesting history!

Plague Door Passau Christmas in Bavaria

This is a plague door dating back to 1693. Back in the day, people with the plague were quarantined behind doors like these and fed through the slits in the window. (Amusingly, a handwritten sign in the window reads “NO PLAGUE HOUSE!”)

Passau Fire Christmas in Bavaria

Passau is defined by fire and water. A fire in 1662 burned the entire town to the ground — and yet they rebuilt. Today, at the confluence of two rivers, they’re vulnerable to flooding. The second-highest flood of all time took place in 2013.

“The insurance down by the river must be expensive,” I told my guide, Martina. “Oh, no — they can’t get insurance at all,” she replied. How crazy is that? Even people living on an active volcano in Hawaii can get insurance, albeit extremely expensive insurance!

Candles Christmas in Bavaria

If you’ve ever traveled with me through a Catholic country, you know that I stop and light a candle whenever there’s an opportunity to do so.

Passau Christmas in Bavaria

I love the look of Passau markets against the bright blue sky!

Little Red Riding Hood Christmas in Bavaria

Little Red Riding Hood was on display in Munich.

Statue of Liberty Christmas in Bavaria

I was very surprised to see Lady Liberty in Munich. (And how much do you love the bokeh on that shot?)

Pink Market Christmas in Bavaria

Also in Munich is the Pink Market — the largest LGBT market in the region.

Sexy Mermen Ornaments Christmas in Bavaria

Finally Pink Market definitely had some unique handicrafts for sale — including sexy merman ornaments! How awesome are these?

Essential Info: I flew in and out of Munich and traveled by train throughout Bavaria. My tickets were  purchased a la carte, but you might save money with a Eurail (non-EU resident) or Interrail (EU resident) pass or the German Rail Pass, which is strictly for Germany. I recommend pricing out your legs and comparing the total cost. Don’t forget day trips! Germany is one of the best countries to use rail passes because you almost never have to pay additional reservation fees for the fast trains, unlike France, Italy, and Spain. Plus, if you’re over 26, you’re automatically in first class.

For a Christmas market trip or a trip where you’re doing lots of day trips, I find it best to stay in a hotel within a short walk of the train station (especially in small towns) because it will make your life a million times easier.

In Munich I stayed at the Hotel Präsident, a good, central three-star close to the main train station and in walking distance of a lot of Munich attractions. Rates from 192 EUR ($199). I also stayed at the Westin Grand Munich Hotel, an excellent five-star business hotel, but it’s not in the center of town; it’s well connected by U-bahn though. Rates from 438 EUR ($454).

In Nuremberg I stayed at the Congress Hotel Mercure Nürnberg, which I do not recommend because it’s isolated and far from everything (11-minute walk to U-bahn or 14 EUR ($14.50) taxi to the train station), and one night the front desk gave my key out to a stranger who barged into my room. (Always double-lock your door!!!) The manager was good about making things right, but I wouldn’t stay there again because of the location. Rates from 94 EUR ($97).

In Regensburg I stayed at the Hotel Central Regensburg City Centre, which was spacious, comfortable, close to the train station and a short walk from the old town. Rates from 84 EUR ($87).

In Passau I stayed at the IBB Hotel Passau City Centre, a good mid-range hotel, which was right across from the train station and a short walk from the old town. Rates from 75 EUR ($78).

Don’t visit Germany without travel insurance. I use and recommend World Nomads. I had to visit the hospital after hitting my head and sustaining a concussion. The ER I visited in Munich, Klinikum der Universität München, charges non-EU insurance-holding residents 300 EUR ($311), but because I use World Nomads, I’m getting that money refunded!

I visited Bavaria on a content creation assignment for the German National Tourist Board. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Christmas markets in Europe? Share away!

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My Best Travel Moments of 2016

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Kate in Bushwick

2016 was rough for lots of us, and I’m no exception. Between global events and personal setbacks, it was a very tough year for me. More than I’ve let on here. I have my health and security, which are the most important things, and I didn’t go through any significant personal losses, but this year was a lot rougher than I thought it would be.

That said, there were many wonderful moments, even in a significantly scaled down travel year. And just like in 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012, I’m reminiscing as I go through the best travel moments of the past year.

This year, I’m doing the list a bit differently. I’m thinking of the moments that weren’t the craziest experiences or most unique activities — instead, I’m trying to narrow it down to the moments where I felt the strongest joy.

Oakland Wine Tating

The Most Mysterious Wine in a Cape Town Hotel Bar

After a night out in Cape Town, Beth and I decided to get a glass of wine at the hotel bar before heading up to bed. Before long, the bartender introduced us to a guy down the bar around our age who happened to be seriously into wine.

We started chatting. Wine Guy shared his bottle of “The Very Sexy Shiraz” — his immensely drinkable go-to wine that I gladly would have sipped anytime, anywhere. He called his friend and invited him to join us. We were all in our early thirties, two of us single, two of us taken, all with a similar sense of humor. It’s a minor miracle when you achieve a perfect vibe with strangers!

Then he brought out the big kahuna — Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, 2009. This was a very fine wine, Wine Guy told us. Expensive and unusual.

And we could not figure it out to save our lives.

I have never had a wine like that — ever. For more than an hour, the four of us sipped it slowly and tried to deduce its flavor profile.

“It’s almost like…pickles?” I guessed.

“No, no, that’s the alcohol you’re tasting!” said Wine Guy.

“What about…a cheese that hits the back of your throat?”

“Hmmm. I’m not sure.”

“Hmmm,” we all murmured in unison, taking more sips of the wine.

As time went on, we talked, we laughed, we ordered more wine. Wine Guy was going to a wedding in New Hampshire soon, near where Beth and I grew up, and I offered to go as his date!

Alas, all good things come to an end. Wine Guy invited another friend to join us, a young girl barely out of her teens, and though she was nice, her arrival kind of killed the vibe the four of us had going. We said our goodbyes and I took careful notes on what we had consumed that night.

And when I was at the duty free wine shop at the airport, I found a very similar bottle — Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009. I’m saving it for a special occasion when Beth and I can sip it and keep trying to figure it out.

Brussels Sprouts at Bottega

Lunch at Bottega in Napa Valley

Of all the outstanding meals I enjoyed in 2016, nothing came close to Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega in Yountville, California. Everything we ate was immaculately prepared and tantalizing.

The only bad part? The outdoor tables are underneath bright red awnings. This gave a bright red tint to everything and the resulting garish photos were a nightmare to edit (and still turned out fairly bad), to be honest.

It was worth it. That meal was SO good. I am still dreaming about those shaved brussels sprouts with marcona almonds in a meyer lemon vinaigrette, topped with a sieved egg. And the wines? Stupendous.

The French Laundry may still be the #1 restaurant on my bucket list, but if you can’t get a table, go down the road to Bottega instead. I promise you’ll be pleased.

Guatape

Classic Videos on the Minibus from Guatapé

My day trip from Medellín to Guatapé with Black Sheep Hostel was one of the best things I did in Colombia. I loved everything, from climbing the giant rock to chilling on the riverbank to exploring the colonial towns. And trying my first granadilla fruit, of course.

But as we squished ourselves into the minibus for the ride home, I grimaced. This was about to be a nauseating two-hour drive through the mountains, pressed up against strangers.

“Would you like to watch some classic videos?” our driver asked.

My tour mates and I looked at each other. “Yes?”

He put a videotape in. Suddenly Rick James filled the screen. “She’s a very kinky giiiiiiirl…” Yes. By classic videos, he meant “Superfreak.”

Next up? Eddie Murphy, “Party All the Time.” Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive.”

It was so weird and so random and we couldn’t stop laughing! That definitely made the two-hour drive more entertaining.

Jiyang, Kate, Edna and Joe in Paris

Oysters for Breakfast in Paris

It was Sunday morning in Paris and Jiyang and I met up with Edna and Joe for a stroll through the market by the Bastille. We were going for oysters for breakfast.

Experiences are so much better when you know people who know people. In this case, Edna was a regular at this oyster stall. That got us attention — and a few freebies.

Oysters are one of my favorite things to eat, especially Katama Bay oysters from Martha’s Vineyard. Jiyang, for his part, once ate 225 dollar oysters on a friend’s dare (he succeeded). But to me, this was the best oyster experience yet.

Nine oysters each — not the usual six or twelve you’d get in America. Slices of delicate raw scallop (or coquille, the lovely French word), as soft and tender as a baby’s ear.

And as we finished our oysters, the oyster man reached for a bottle and filled our leftover shells with cold white wine.

We toasted our oyster shells on that chilly October morning. And that was the only moment since moving to New York that I thought to myself, God, I need to live here.

Savannah

Good, Fulfilling Work as a Travel Blogger

Since becoming a full-time travel blogger, it’s been a constant struggle to get brands to understand the value we provide. And while it’s been getting better every year, I feel like the biggest strides for me personally came this past year.

In 2016 I did a lot of fulfilling work with brands I love. I even pitched a lot of the work myself. This led to me designing campaigns where I set the terms, thus building them around my personal travel style, which led to better content for both me and the brands.

And I began selling my photography. My first big sale was a shot of Little Corn Island to Saveur magazine, which was the lead photo of a feature (!), taking up half a page in the print magazine (!!!). After that, photo sales were like dominos. I ultimately sold a few dozen photos to brands and companies this year, including the photo above.

I don’t think photography will ever be my primary focus, but it’s nice to know it’s becoming more of an option. Especially considering how much I’ve improved as a photographer over the years.

Rainbow at Karijini NP

The Rainbow in Karijini National Park

By this point in our Western Australia road trip, Scotty had left us and it was back to just me and my travel soul mate Freedi again. We had arrived in Karijini National Park, a place where I had heard nothing less than absolutely stellar reviews.

We checked into tents on the same block and decided to each go off on our own, arranging to meet at 6:20 PM in time for dinner.

Girl Code. You never violate Girl Code. When you say you’re going to meet someone at a certain time, you will be there. (Freedi’s being German only added to this.)

That is, unless the photography conditions are extraordinary. Which is exactly what happened when a giant, bold rainbow streaked across the gray sky.

Photographer Code beats Girl Code every time. And for the next 20 minutes, we both ran around the retreat with the understanding that the other was doing the same thing. You do not fuck around when something as magical as a rainbow appears.

And when we finally met up, we were ecstatic, and tired, and covered in bright red dirt, bearing beautiful rainbow photos. We each knew the other one was doing the same thing.

Kate and Beth Business Class on KLM

Flying Business Class to South Africa with KLM

Believe it or not, until this year, I had never flown business class long-haul. I had done so on four two-hour intra-European flights, which were nice, but you don’t get the full experience on a short flight.

A few months ago, I had done some work for KLM and they compensated me in tickets rather than money. I very rarely do that, because you can’t pay your bills in comps, but in this case the value of two round-trip business class tickets from New York to Johannesburg dwarfed what I would have charged them for the same work.

You guys. Business class is AMAZING. The flight attendants give you so much attention! The wine and cheese flow nonstop! I never sleep on planes and I slept for eight hours while lying flat! At one point we actually ordered port while watching crappy romantic comedies! And it was even better that I got to share it with Beth, who was also experiencing business class long-haul for the first time.

On our second flight, from Amsterdam to Johannesburg, we were seated toward the back of business class and Beth turned to me and said, “I like these seats better because we can look at the peasants!

I burst out laughing. “You are getting used to this a little too fast!”

Kate at Hamilton

Seeing Hamilton on Broadway

Yes, I only traveled 100 blocks or so, which might be cheating, but seeing Hamilton was unlike any theatrical (or performance) experience I have ever had. I was so excited, I spent most of the show shaking and on the verge of tears until the curtain call. Everyone in the audience had just as much energy as I did!

How did I get a ticket? I bought one on StubHub for an inflated price. I actually timed my purchase wisely as it was just when rumors were beginning to swirl that Lin-Manuel Miranda would be leaving the production in July, but before the Tony Awards. Prices shot way up once he confirmed his exit and Hamilton won most of the Tony’s.

Splurging that much on a theater ticket is not going to be a regular activity for me, but there has never been a show like Hamilton before and I was eager to see the original cast before they departed. I would have loved to have seen the original cast of RENT in 1996. For that reason, getting to experience Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. and Renee Elise Goldberry and, well, everyone else, made it so worth it. I feel very lucky.

Even better? Seeing Hamilton brought me into the community of Hamilton superfans and brought me closer to my friends who love it. It’s also led me to more exploration of Hamilton’s New York. I’m so proud to be living in Hamilton Heights, the neighborhood named after Hamilton himself!

Kate at Club Getaway

Getting to Be a Normal Person at Adult Summer Camp

One of the best things I did this year was go to Club Getaway, a.k.a. Adult Summer Camp, over Labor Day weekend.

Before I went, I made a decision — I wouldn’t tell anyone what I did for a living. I couldn’t handle having The Conversation nonstop all weekend. I tried out different iterations of what I do and settled on, “I develop travel resources for women.” Technically true and it got no follow-up questions!

Three people found out. One because my sister told him; he was cool about it. I told one guy because he was from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, where I’ve done a lot of work and travel, and he knew people in the local tourism board; he actually knew who I was when I told him. I told a third guy because we live in the same neighborhood and I figured I’d run into him at some point.

But the third guy told some people. And one girl came up to me and said, “So can you tell me how to get a lot of followers on Instagram?” My heart sank. Not this again. Not here, not today. That right there was validation that being private was the right choice.

Aside from that moment, camp was amazing. I danced in a silent disco. I jumped on a bungee trampoline. I took a golf lesson and painted. I dressed up as a raccoon for an animal party. I sat by the lake with a Corona. It was insanely fun and more of a vacation than I’ve had anywhere in years.

I made friends. I even dated a guy I met there. And everyone liked me for me, not my travels or my blog.

That was weird. And it shouldn’t have been weird.

Kate and Mario in Bogota

Being the Tallest Girl in the Club in Bogotá

I was always the shortest girl in my class growing up. You can look back at my class photos and see me in the exact same seat — front row on the right — almost every year. I hated being short. It wasn’t until middle school that I caught up; today I’m the very average American female height of 5’4″.

So it was weird and trippy and awesome to have the completely opposite experience in Bogotá this year! My friend Amelia offered to connect me with her boyfriend’s cousin, Mario, who lived in Bogotá; when he told me we were going dancing, I panicked. (I have to dance? In public?! In LATIN AMERICA?!)

Turns out there was nothing to be afraid of. The atmosphere was casual. The music was rocking. People were just chilling and drinking aguardiente and grooving on their own terms.

And then I looked around and marveled at the fact that I was the tallest woman there!

IT. WAS. AWESOME. I haven’t felt like that much of an Amazon since 2011, when I went out with local friends in Bali! I wanted to grab things on high shelves just because I could!

Kate and Quokka

Taking Quokka Selfies on Rottnest Island

It was even better than I imagined — but at first I worried we wouldn’t get that far. The hours slipped away on Rottnest Island and I nearly panicked, worrying that Freedi and I wouldn’t have enough time to take good selfies with the quokkas.

We needn’t have worried. It took some time and exploration, but we met the most adorable new quokka friend. He was hanging out between the settlement and an area called the Basin. He was friendly and sweet and loved giving us kisses (unsolicited!) and posing for photos. LOOK HOW CUTE HE IS!

My quokka time was everything I had dreamed of and more. I’m pretty sure quokkas are my favorite animals now!

Kate and Readers in Savannah

Reader Meet-Ups

Even though I only hosted one formal reader meet-up this year — a mini gathering in Savannah — I had a lot of great meetings with readers. Some of them were one-on-ones. Some were Snapchat followers and weren’t even familiar with the blog. Most started with a social media message of, “Hey, I live here! Want to hang out?”

I have the best readers in the world. You guys are seriously amazing. I am still blown away that one of my readers went and donated blood for the first time after I was turned away from donating due to my travels in Colombia. She donated blood because I couldn’t. I still marvel at that.

If you see me, say hi! People often email me to say, “I saw you at [destination], but was too shy to say hi.” There’s nothing wrong with saying hi to me! I’ll be happy under almost any circumstance. (The exception would be if it looks like I’m upset or having a serious conversation with someone — use your best judgment.)

I hope to see you sometime next year!

Cartagena

The Tooth Loss Celebration of Cartagena

I’ve written about this so many times that I hate to be repetitive, but it was the moment that reminded me of how much I love travel.

I was on a food tour in Cartagena with a Dutch family and a guy from New York, and the Dutch couple’s five-year-old daughter lost her first tooth in the middle of the tour.

Right away, I reached into my back pocket and found a dollar to give to her. “In my country, when you lose a tooth, you get a dollar!” I told her.

“She’s five years old and already earning her first dollar!” her mother said.

“Beers for everyone!” shouted her father. “My daughter lost her first tooth!” He ran into a convenience store and bought beers for all the adults. We toasted the little girl’s lost tooth on a bright yellow plaza in Getsemaní, watching her brother play soccer with local boys.

That moment was as close to perfection as I have ever found on my travels.

What were your favorite travel moments of 2016? Share away!

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My Favorite New Destinations of 2016

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Kate and Javier Ziplining

Every December, I put together a list of my favorite destinations of the year. I love picking out the places that made my heart beat the fastest!

Last year, the big winner was Nicaragua. In 2014, Finland was a memorable standout. In 2013, Japan hit the hardest. In 2012, I loved the Faroe Islands.

This year was far lighter on travel than the past. I only visited four new countries (Colombia, Slovakia, Poland, and Luxembourg) and much more of my time was spent closer to home — something that I think will continue to be a trend.

Furthermore, I don’t think any one destination stands above the others. As a result, this list is in a completely random, unranked order. It may seem a bit weird to include both giant regions and small towns on the same list, but this feels right to me!

One thing: keep in mind that these are destinations I hadn’t visited prior to 2016. So places like Paris, Savannah, and Cape Town are not eligible.

Here we go!

Krakow

Kraków, Poland

Kraków was one of my biggest travel oversights coming into 2016, and I’m so glad I finally made it happen. It’s no big surprise; it has so many qualities that I love in a destination.

A medium-sized city. Absolutely beautiful architecture. Low prices and very good value for money. Delicious food — both Polish and international (I actually ate at a Corsican restaurant one night!). Out-of-this-world ice cream, served in tiny Kate-sized portions. And a beautiful park that runs in a ring around the town that you can circle for hours and hours if you’d like.

Krakow at NightKrakowKrakow FlowersKrakowKrakow Treats

I did luck out in Kraków. I had perfect early fall weather. I met up with a great local-reader-turned-new-friend, Dominika, who took me out to cool places (including the cafe with the dessert above) and showed me her favorite spots. But what I remember most was the light. Just look at that top photo. It’s barely retouched.

The evening light in Kraków was so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: September 2016 (full post coming soon!)

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Visiting Puerto Rico was one of my goals for 2016 and I was so delighted when an opportunity presented itself — especially since it came during the doldrums of winter!

What struck me the most was how perfect an all-around destination Puerto Rico is for Americans. You don’t need your passport, there are nonstop flights from lots of cities, English is widely spoken in the tourism industry, and your US phone plan will work. You can lie on a beach, zip-line through the mountains, or explore art and history. Puerto Rico has it all.

Orocovis, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoOld San Juan, Puerto RicoKate in San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

My favorite highlight of Puerto Rico: a day trip to Culebra Island. I was initially skeptical, but Flamenco Beach lived up to the hype — it’s one of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever visited. A wide expanse of soft pinky-white sand, neon turquoise water, and even a few tanks for good measure.

I need to go back for more — Vieques is calling my name and I hear the beach on nearby Culebrita is even better!

Read More: Puerto Rico Seriously Has It All

Colmar

Alsace, France

It was actually a struggle for me to choose between Alsace (the region) and Strasbourg (the city) for this round-up. I loved Strasbourg, but did the smaller city of Colmar deserve equal recognition? Or was I being unnecessarily contrarian just again, because SO many bloggers love Colmar and I wanted to be different?

Eventually, Alsace won out. Because the things I loved most were universal to the region. Fresh flowers bursting out of every free inch of pavement. Brightly colored shutters and doors on half-timbered houses. Delicious white wines and fabulous tartes flambées. Decent prices and friendly locals. Obviously French, but also very German, with an interesting history of being volleyed back and forth between the countries.

dscf9862Tarte Flambee in Colmardscf9870dscf9946 Strasbourg Street Sign

As soon as I left Alsace, I knew my time there had been criminally short. Right away, my readers started telling me that I had missed the best place of all — the village of Riquewihr. Apparently lots of people like to go on road trips through Alsace, tasting ciders and wines along the way. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm!

Read More: A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

Hudson New York

Hudson, New York

“You have to get away from the city at least once a month,” New Yorker after New Yorker told me, and after spending April without leaving the city, I knew I had to be better. I started researching local getaways and the town of Hudson kept appearing.

A small town in the Hudson Valley two hours north of New York on the train. Despite its small size, a town leading a foodie Renaissance in the region, with tons of chefs opening acclaimed restaurants. Filled with boutiques and cozy little shops and cafes. It sounded a lot like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town that I love, only with even better restaurants.

My friend Tess had visited recently and echoed all these things. “Plus it’s so cheap!” she exclaimed. Sold.

Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkHudson OctopusMoto Coffee Hudson New York

Even though I thought I had my finger on the pulse of what made Hudson tick, there were surprises. How so many people had given up city life to move there. How massively LGBT-friendly it was.

The only thing is that I feel like I’ve seen all there is to see in Hudson. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, though. Small can be good.

Read More: Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America

Salento Colombia

Salento, Colombia

When I planned my trip to Colombia, I assumed that the whole country would end up on this list at the end of the year. Truthfully, while almost everyone I know who has been to Colombia considers it one of their favorite countries, it just didn’t quite gel for me overall.

Timing was one reason — I was exhausted and it wasn’t a good time for any trip, much less a lengthy trip in a developing country. And I was traveling in my old-school backpacker style (albeit with private rooms) that I now think is becoming part of my past.

But while I didn’t fall madly in love with Colombia, I did swoon for the town of Salento. Small, beautiful, and brightly painted. So many delicious places to eat. A plaza that came to life on Sunday nights. A mirador overlooking the town. And so many coffee plantations.

SalentoCoffee Bean SalentoSalentoBeer in SalentoSalento

Salento was so chilled out, which was exactly what I needed after Cartagena and Medellín. And my day trip to the Valle de Cocora was a major highlight as well. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, I couldn’t recommend Salento more!

Read More: Traveling in Colombia: The Best Moments

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

The North Fork of Long Island

I had an image of Long Island held from my university days: isolated suburbia, rich privileged kids who flunked out of school and got their parents to buy their way back in, and not the prettiest accents of all time. Not a fair assessment, I know. It never was and I never should have let it cloud my judgment. I was an idiot in college. We all were.

That all ended when my friends and I took a day trip to the North Fork to explore the wine scene. I found a beautiful country escape with vineyard after vineyard, some truly outstanding cabernet francs, great restaurants, and the best strawberry rhubarb pie of my life.

Sparkling Pointe Long IslandLieb Cellars Long IslandKate at Sparkling Pointe North Fork Long IslandBriermere Farm Long IslandLieb Cellars Long Island

There was only one place where the Long Island stereotype reared its head — Sparkling Pointe, where the jewelry was large, the crowd was tipsy, the Yankees hats were omnipresent, and the accents were loud. But it wasn’t that bad.

Long Island is a killer destination. I’m blown away that such a good wine region is just a few hours from where I live. And that’s not all — one of my next goals is to make it to the Hamptons in 2017!

Read More: A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island

Coral Bay Sunset

Western Australia

How can WA not go on this list? It was the craziest, most exciting destination of the year by far. Not to mention one that I’ve yearned to visit for more or less forever.

What did it for me? It was the sparse, remote landscape, how you would almost never see other people and would then say hi to them out of disbelief that they were there, too. It was the crazy wildlife — the quokkas on Rottnest Island, of course, but also the manta rays and sharks in Ningaloo Reef. And dolphins and kangaroos. The crazy landscapes: bright yellow pinnacles in the desert, pink lakes throughout the region. Perth’s hip factor. The gorges in Karijini. Man. I could go on forever about Western Australia.

Dolphins Monkey MiaKate at Mount NamelessPinnacles DesertKalbarri NP WA Shark Bay Scenic Flight

Part of me feels in disbelief that this trip even happened. But the memories here are ones that I will cherish forever.

If you want to go somewhere not as many tourists visit, or somewhere that feels off the beaten path, WA will be a very satisfying destination for you.

Read More: My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

Stellenbosch Vineyard

Stellenbosch, South Africa

It took three trips to South Africa to get me to visit Stellenbosch, the lauded wine region just one hour from Cape Town. What took me so long, seriously? Stellenbosch is amazing!

Beth and I decided to come here after a long, busy trip through Johannesburg, Kruger, and Cape Town, and we basically spent four days in a row doing little more than going from winery to winery, tasting wine with chocolate, tasting wine with cheese, tasting wine with meat, tasting wine with salt, buying reserve bottles to take home (none of which cost more than $11!!!!!), and reminiscing about the rest of our trip.

Wine Tasting StellenboschStellenboschKate in StellenboschStellenbosch Flowers in WinterStellenbosch Wine and Chocolate

I thought visiting Stellenbosch in July, their winter, would be hit-or-miss, but turns out it was a fantastic time to visit. The wineries were far less crowded than they would have been in high season. We had a few sunny days that resulted in beautiful photos. And there’s nothing like cozying up next to a fireplace with a glass of red on a cold day!

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: July 2016 (full recap coming soon!)

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before it popped up in my South Wales itinerary; uncharacteristically, I hadn’t even Googled it before arriving. But perhaps it was for the best, because I was stunned at how hard and fast I fell for this tiny Welsh town.

In short, Hay-on-Wye is the used bookstore capital of the world. They even have a world-famous literary festival that Bill Clinton called “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Between the bookstores, the cafes, and the many quirky shops (including an antique map shop, where I bought a 150-year-old map of northern Italy!), I could have stayed a week in introverted bliss.

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-WyeChandelier Store, Haye-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

South Wales was a beautiful place, filled with gorgeous scenery and surprisingly delicious food, but no place stole my heart as quickly or as firmly as Hay-on-Wye.

Read More: A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

Old San Juan Cat, Puerto Rico

And that’s a wrap, folks!

At this point, I have zero trips planned for 2017. Which is fabulous!

I have some vague ideas — I think somewhere in the former Soviet Union could be a possibility for the summer months (Central Asia? Caucasus? Russia and the Baltics?), Putin-Trump situation notwithstanding. My dream destinations of Corsica and Sardinia are very likely for September or so.

I should visit friends in Austin, Las Vegas, and Seattle. There have been a ton of cheap direct flights to Cuba from New York on JetBlue — I’ll be keeping my eye on those. I’m enjoying Christmas markets in Germany so much that I want to come back next year. And of course, there’s this crazy travel blogging business, which could take me to any number of locales.

Anything is possible. This time last year, I had no clue that Western Australia or Colombia were even possibilities!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What was your favorite new destination of 2016? Share away!

My trips to Kraków, Alsace, Hudson, Salento, the North Fork, and Stellenbosch were entirely at my own expense. My trips to Puerto Rico, Western Australia, and Hay-on-Wye were sponsored. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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AK Monthly Recap: November 2016

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TURKEY CARVES KATE

This is a hard recap to write. This was a hard month in a hard year. I finally feel like joining everyone in declaring that 2016 was THE WORST, THE WORST, THE ABSOLUTE WORST.

That and I took almost no photographs this month. Oh, and the fact that this is a week late, when I am usually ON IT with the monthly recaps.

But as bad as this month was, there was a lot of good, too. Perhaps even some life-changing good. We shall see how it all pans out.

I’m going to be brief this month so we can put this nightmare behind us.

Iced Coffee Broome

Destinations Visited

Broome and Perth, Australia

Reading and Lynn, Massachusetts

New York, New York

Allentown, Pennsylvania

Stamford, Connecticut

Favorite Destinations

Perth is a really cool city — and getting time to wander on my own made it better.

Kate and Beth Canvasing in Allentown

Highlights

Honestly, I had a hard time finding joy this month. But there were a few moments that I really enjoyed: going to Parks and Rec trivia at Videology in Williamsburg (my team came in fourth, no thanks to me who was THE WOOOOOOOOOOORST), going out in Chinatown with my buds Jessie and Anna, and experiencing early voting in Massachusetts (where I’m still registered but won’t be for much longer) for the first time ever.

From a travel perspective, I enjoyed my last days in Broome and Perth before embarking on a very long economy class journey home (Broome-Perth-Singapore-London-Boston — and I do not recommend flying for that long!). And I had three seats in a row free from London to Boston, so I actually got to lie flat and slept FIVE AND A HALF HOURS on a flight!

I was home for my first Thanksgiving since 2009! I spent 2010 in Koh Lanta, 2011 in Istanbul, 2012 in Glasgow and London, 2013 in Chiang Mai, 2014 in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, and 2015 in Koh Lanta again. Turns out I actually do like Thanksgiving food after all.

Pretty much every conversation I had at home this month somehow came back to the topic of newly legalized marijuana in my home state of Massachusetts, which goes into effect December 15. I’m about to know a LOT of newbie pot farmers.

I Voted

Challenges

The election. I went into it with such high hopes. I worked so hard for Hillary — donating and calling and volunteering, even more than I did for Obama in 2008. My friend Beth and I went canvassing in Allentown on the day of the election and we ended up working with the local community mostly in Spanish (a huge thrill and one I’m happy to say we pulled off!).

Jet lag from Australia hit me on a severe delay, so I had slept from 5:30-11:30 PM the night before the election and just stayed up all night into morning, then went out to canvas. We had tickets to Hillary’s event at the Javits Center, but the crowds were so crazy we left and went to a bar decked out in Hillary signs in Hell’s Kitchen.

And Hell’s Kitchen quickly turned into Hell on Earth.

I couldn’t take it. Feeling like a zombie, I went home and fell into bed at 11, missing the worst of it. Then woke up at 4:30. I didn’t leave my bed for the next ten hours. Later that day, my heart raced for several minutes and I panicked, gulping air as hard as I could and feeling like I was drowning. I’m fairly certain this was the first panic attack I’ve ever experienced. Another followed a day later.

I didn’t eat anything for three days. Then spent the next three days eating nothing but junk: Easy Mac topped with crushed tortilla chips and Frank’s Red Hot. Triple chocolate donuts from Dunkin Donuts. Those so-bad-for-you soft sugar cookies with pink frosting and sprinkles from C-Town.

Then the recovery began. I wrote this post. I donated money to the ACLU and NAACP (I donate monthly to Planned Parenthood). I joined an anti-racism group in my neighborhood. I started following my local politicians, made call after call to Congress, and planned for political action privately.

For the record — my reaction was not just because my candidate lost. My reaction was borne out of genuine fear for our country’s most vulnerable: for blacks, for Muslims, for Latinos, for LGBT individuals, for women, for immigrants. For the wave of hate crimes that has hit our country. For our environment. For having a reckless president who doesn’t understand the job requirements and has already put our safety and security at risk.

I watched Bush get reelected in 2004 while studying in Florence, a pit in my stomach. Four more years of frustration and anger. But I didn’t feel a fraction of the fear I feel today.

This election was not normal.

Kate Wardrobe Text

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The Best Gifts for Travelers (Awesome AND Affordable!) — My first-ever gift guide and I am DELIGHTED at how much you guys enjoyed it!

Other Posts

Leaving is Easy. Fighting is Harder. — On choosing to stay and fight for my country.

On the Shores of a Pink Lake in Australia — SO PINK!

The Conversation We Would Be Having — All the burning questions people have for me, answered, so I can just send them this and not have to have this conversation a million times a week.

My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia — The best of WA, distilled into one monster post.

Rottnest Island

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Look at that amazing beach on Rottnest Island in Western Australia! Even more amazing? That was taken through a window. (Don’t take the bus tour on Rottnest Island like I did. It killed me that we had to take almost all of our photos through glass.)

Reading in the Fall

What I Read This Month

Narrative of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass — I haven’t read about Frederick Douglass since I was a kid, and today I live in a neighborhood where one of the main streets bears his name. It was time to dive into this memoir. To my surprise, this memoir is solely about his years in slavery; he didn’t write about his post-freedom life until much later.

And the accounts are heartbreaking. This is probably the single best account of enslavement, not least because Douglass lived slavery in so many different forms and different environments, all of them evil. From the mistress who taught him how to read then disowned him to him getting caught building a plan for escape as an adult, I found this to be one of the most difficult to read yet important accounts of this year.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson — I love Mark Manson’s writing (my favorite essay of his: Love is Not Enough), so I was looking forward to his book. This collection of essays is like an anti-self-help book, going against much conventional advice. The contrarian in me enjoyed that and much of the book had me thinking differently.

That said, like a lot of books I’ve read by celebrities and internet personalities this year, I found the book to be quite uneven. (As an internet personality myself, this is something that scares me about my own writing.) Some chapters were very good, especially the one about accepting death; others fell flat and the book took a long time to find its rhythm. I loved the vivid stories about actual people that illustrated some chapters; I wish there were more of them. Overall? Not life-changing, but thought-provoking and definitely worth the read.

Palm Trees in Broome

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance — This was my first book from the “trying to understand Trump voters” collection. Vance grew up a self-described hillbilly (a term he uses with pride) in Ohio with family roots in Kentucky. This memoir is a searing account of growing up in poverty amid substance abuse, physical abuse, and a rotating series of father figures, set in a mostly white working class town in decline. Vance escaped and went on to the Marines, Ohio State, and Yale Law, an anomaly to his peers.

I knew nothing about this segment of Americans, who are too often ignored, and reading about them gave me so much empathy for their struggles. That alone made it worth a read, and I’m grateful I understand more. It’s not a hardcore political read, so don’t go in expecting to read what explicitly drove people to vote for Trump.

Vance himself is a Republican. His conclusion is that the government can’t do much of anything to help people like his family because so much of their problems originate in the family structure. I don’t completely agree with him. I’ve heard of Family Intervention Projects in the UK where case workers regularly visit a family on a long-term basis, teaching everything from from how to cook simple meals to getting kids bathed, to bed, and to school on time. Years later, kids in this program had lower rates of anti-social behavior, truancy and substance abuse. There aren’t enough resources to provide this to every needy family in America, but I think a program like this would be worth exploring.

Hillbilly Elegy is a good companion to Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, one of my all-time favorite memoirs, which also tells the story of growing up poor in America. It’s becoming a movie soon.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — Even though this book got so much buzz, I admit I had subdued expectations for another slavery read, thinking it couldn’t compare to Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Was I ever wrong. Homegoing is one of the most epic novels I’ve read in quite some time, and I can’t believe something this rich was written by a first-time author in her twenties.

Two half-sisters in what is now Ghana are torn apart: one is captured and sold into slavery, and the other is married to a British slaver, remaining in Africa. Seven generations on each side of the family have their stories told in vignettes, one side in Africa and one side in America, bringing in topics from British colonialism and mental illness to living as an escaped slave and heroin addiction. The stories end in the present day.

More than any other novel I’ve read, Homegoing encapsulates how slavery may have technically ended but whites have found different ways to keep African-Americans enslaved in various horrifying forms ever since. Sadly, the people who need to realize this are the ones who won’t pick this book up in the first place.

What I Listened To This Month

Back in 2008, I went on my first solo trip ever — to Buenos Aires. While there, I hung out with an American guy named Louis. And while I always knew he was into music, Louis now is Kind Of A Big Deal in the music world — he’s part of the band Autograf. (Oh, and fun fact, loyal readers, he’s in one of those ten stories you loved so much…)

I hadn’t checked out his music until this month, but I watched the above video and fell in love with that song “Dream.” I kept listening — and now I seriously love all of their music. What a find!

Nuremberg Christmas Markets

Image: charley1965

Coming Up in December 2016

German Christmas markets, here I come! I’ve visited Germany around ten times or so, but I’ve actually never been during the Christmas season!

I’ll be spending just over a week in the Bavaria region, visiting Munich, Nuremberg, Regensburg, and Passau. (I’m now in Munich as this is being published.)

That’s it for travel this month. I still feel exhausted from my six-week adventure this fall and I need to seriously stick to my goal of cutting travel down to 25% of the time! I’ll be spending Christmas with my family in Massachusetts and I hope to spend New Year’s in New York.

What are your plans for December? Share away!

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Win a Trip to Chile (including Easter Island)!

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Win a Trip to Chile

The following branded content post is brought to you by Marmot and LATAM Airlines. With a contest this good, I’m always happy to promote it to my readers!

Now that I’m based in New York after years based in Europe, I’m making a priority to explore more of Latin America. Central America in 2015, Colombia in 2016. I’m starting to eye more of South America for 2017. And of all the destinations in South America, one of my top dreams is the remote environment of Easter Island in Chile.

But you may beat me there — because Marmot is now giving away a trip for two to Chile, including Santiago, Patagonia, and Easter Island!

Not only that, they’re giving away a $1000 Marmot gift card as well!

Win a Trip to Chile

The Contest

Winners of this contest will win an 11-day trip for two to Chile, including flights on LATAM Airlines (the consolidation of LAN, its affiliates, and TAM) from one of their departure cities (Miami, Dulles, LAX or JFK), plus flights from your departure city in the 48 contiguous states if you don’t live near a gateway. LATAM is actually the only airline that flies to Easter Island.

Winners also receive a $1000 Marmot gift card that can be redeemed on Marmot.com, by phone, or in the flagship stores in Aspen, Greenwich, and San Francisco. Marmot has an excellent selection of high-quality, durable outerwear that is perfect for a trip to a rugged destination like Chile.

Kate’s Thoughts

What I love about this trip is that it gives you experiences in three very different parts of Chile: the capital of Santiago, the mountains of Patagonia, and the isolated Polynesian environment of Easter Island.

Whenever I visit a new country, I try to visit three different places if possible. I’m not a fan of just flying into a capital, spending two days there, and saying, “Well, I’ve done [country].” I like to get a well-rounded experience when I have the time to do so.

This trip is by no means a complete guide to Chile — think about the Atacama Desert, the Lake District, Valparaíso, and all the great wine regions. Chile really has so much diversity as a destination! But it’s about as good of a first-timer trip as you can imagine.

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Santiago! Get settled in at your hotel before embarking on a half day tour where you’ll get to know this charming city, famous for its mix of beautiful colonial architecture, bohemian flare and modern skyscrapers. Enjoy an evening on your own exploring the hotspots in neighborhoods like Lastarria or Bellavista.

Day 2: Today you’ll find yourself arriving in Polynesia…yes, you heard right! Easter Island makes up the southernmost island of the Polynesian Triangle and you’ll have the chance to enjoy everything that this remote destination has to offer.

Day 3: Spend your day exploring the best of Rapa Nui’s archaeological sites like the famous standing heads of Ahu Tongariki.

Day 4: Hike your way up the Rano Kau volcano or spend a day basking in the sun at Anakena Beach.

Day 5: Pack your bags and head back to the mainland. Upon arrival in Santiago head to get a taste of one of the world’s most renowned wine regions.

Day 6: Enjoy wine touring and all of the stunning scenery that comes with it.

Day 7: Today you’ll head south to the heart of Chilean Patagonia. Torres del Paine National Park is home to some of the world’s greatest nature and will be your personal playground for four magical days.

Day 8: Go horseback riding around your lodge or head toward Gray Glacier; adventurous types can approach it via sea kayak!

Day 9: Save your energy for the grueling yet magnificent hike to the Las Torres basin. This full day trek will have you sweating but marveling all the while at one of South America’s most iconic peaks.

Day 10: Time to say adios to Chile and its natural splendor. Fly back to Santiago for your departing flight home. Hasta la proxima!

Win a Trip to Chile

How to Enter

Enter here. It’s easy! Just hit the enter button and sign up with your name, email address, and departure city.

This contest is open to legal U.S. residents age 18 and up. See the full terms and conditions here.

The contest ends on December 16, 2016, at 11:59 PM EST. The trip must be taken in 2017.

Win a Trip for Two to Chile!

Good luck!

Please let me know if you win — it makes me so happy when my readers win contests!

Does Chile sound like your kind of trip?

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