Месечни архиви: January 2017

This is the Islamic World

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Let me show you a world that is too often misunderstood.

Women gossiping in a park.

Istanbul, 2013.

Soft sand, palm trees, and some of the bluest waters you’ve ever seen.

Senggigi, Indonesia, 2011.

Bikes and bread and girls in matching dresses.

Prizren, Kosovo, 2013.

Camel rides at sunrise.

Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2011.

Chilled out beach resorts.

Ksamil, Albania, 2015.

Opulence.

Dubai, 2013

New friends who are dressed a million times better than you.

Amman, 2011.

 

Bridges across the divide.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2012.

Best friends forever.

Brunei Darussalam, 2014.

Desert dunes.

Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2013.

Graffitied pyramids dwarfing cities.

Tirana, Albania, 2015.

Whirling dervishes.

Istanbul, 2013.

Women with style.

Kuala Lumpur, 2010.

Reverence for American leaders.

Prishtina, Kosovo, 2013.

Mocktails made with gold leaf and camel milk.

Dubai, 2013.

Ruins that could rival anything in Rome.

Jerash, Jordan, 2011.

The call to prayer beautifully punctuating the day.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, 2014.

Bazaars packed with traditional goods.

Istanbul, 2013.

Bridges, mosques, minarets, and fortresses.

Prizren, Kosovo, 2013.

World wonders.

Petra, Jordan, 2011.

Daredevils showing off for the camera.

Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2014.

Olives. Lots and lots of olives.

Istanbul, 2013.

Fiery curries, not a bite of pork in sight.

Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2015.

Cevapciki with pita, sausages, and the only time you’ll ever willingly eat raw onions.

Sarajevo, 2012.

Pink sunsets over the Mediterranean.

Fethiye, Turkey, 2011.

Pink sunsets over Lombok.

Lombok, Indonesia, 2011.

Pink sunsets over the Bosphorus.

Istanbul, 2013.

Pink sunsets over the Andaman.

Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2015.

Spellbinding traditional architecture.

Istanbul, 2013.

UNESCO World Heritage-listed architecture.

Berat, Albania, 2015.

Avant-garde architecture.

Prishtina, Kosovo, 2013.

Gold-domed mosques that bring together colorful streets.

Singapore, 2011.

And the tallest building in the world.

Dubai, 2013.

Not to mention the largest flag in the world.

Amman, 2011.

Tea served in tulip-shaped glasses.

Istanbul, 2011.

Tea cooked over an open fire.

Petra, Jordan, 2011.

High tea overlooking a luxurious city.

Dubai, 2013.

Young men who live on the edge.

Istanbul, 2013.

Young men who died far too young.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2013.

Feeling at home. And welcomed.

Ajloun, Jordan, 2011.

Did I ever feel in danger?

Not once.

Beauty, joy, friendship, and the best hospitality in the world — this is just a fraction of what the Islamic world has to offer. And this doesn’t even count western countries with sizable Muslim populations, like London and Paris, nor places where I interact with Muslims daily, like my home city of New York.

Looking back, I thought that Islamophobia would slowly decrease in the years following 9/11. Now, it seems to be worse than ever. Considering how Islamophobia is ricocheting across America and the globe right now, I think it’s vital to change perceptions by sharing the truth about these beautiful, welcoming destinations.

I’m adding another priority of 2017: to visit at least one new Islamic region or country, and hopefully more. That could be Uzbekistan or Tunisia, Oman or Azerbaijan, Western China or Northern India or Turkish Cyprus.

In the seven years that I’ve been publishing this site, my goal has been to show women that they shouldn’t let fear stop them from traveling the world. Now I want to change perceptions about this oft-misunderstood region.

Have you traveled in the Islamic world? What did you enjoy the most?

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For the Love of God, Don’t Sew a Canadian Flag on Your Backpack

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There are so many travel urban legends out there. The belief that dressing up and being polite at check-in will get you a free upgrade to business class. The Paris restaurant where the food is so good, you’ll cry, and prices haven’t changed since the 1980s. The mysterious Thai island that no “tourists” know about.

But the biggest myth of all? The crowds of American travelers with Canadian flag patches sewn to their backpacks.

Image: Venture Vancouver

Do these travelers actually exist?

When I brought up the subject of traveling as an American during a Trump presidency, I was shocked at how many of my readers talked about Americans masquerading as Canadians with a Canadian flag patch sewn on their backpacks.

“I’m doing that before I travel next!” several of them claimed.

I have never seen an American with a Canadian flag patch. Ever.

Hell, it’s rare to see any kind of patch sewn on a backpack nowadays.

That said, I’ve heard story after story of these travelers existing. You’ve probably heard them, too. But here’s the thing — these stories almost always seem to be secondhand. A few of them have actually seen them, sure, but most people have only heard of Americans doing this and can’t recall a specific point when they saw it with their own eyes.

Because of this, I seriously doubt that most of these people who claim to have seen Americans pretending to be Canadian have actually seen them.

It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, I heard tons of people saw Mike Pence on Grindr the night of the inauguration.” If you hear it often enough, you start to believe you saw it with your own eyes.

But what hurt me was hearing how many of my American readers were eager to start pretending to be Canadian on the road. I don’t want anyone to do that, and I don’t think it does us any favors.

Traveling Under Obama vs. Traveling Under Bush

Now, granted, most of my long-term international travels have been during the Obama Administration, and generally speaking, President Obama is highly respected around the world.

But I’ve also traveled extensively during the Bush Administration, albeit mostly in Europe. I was in Italy during his reelection in 2004. And he was far less respected around the world.

(Even when I arrived in France in 2001, pre-9/11, as soon as I met my host family, they immediately wanted to talk about Bush. One of the first things the father said to me was “Il est cowboy!“)

When Bush was president, I would constantly field questions about his policies, especially around the war in Iraq.

By contrast, during the Obama years, criticism of America was far rarer. Most of it tended to focus on healthcare and gun violence. Obama was rarely criticized, and if he was, it was usually about drone strikes.

With a new era under Donald Trump, it’s going to be similar to the Bush years.

That’s the reason that lots of Americans want to be undercover Canadians. They want to escape the constant questions. They don’t want to be shamed. I get it, but that’s not the right course of action.

Why Pretending to be a Canadian a Bad Idea

Canada is a fantastic country. Gorgeous landscapes, very friendly people, delicious food, astonishing diversity. Plus, the Canadian dollar is weak and it’s a bargain to visit right now. I haven’t visited Canada in a long time, but I hope to visit at least two different regions this year. In short, if you’re Canadian, you’re very lucky.

That said, as lovely as it is, you shouldn’t lie and say you’re Canadian. Why?

Most people are happy to meet Americans. Because most people are nice, period. If you treat people with kindness, they will very likely treat you with kindness in return. And some countries, like Kosovo, welcome Americans with joyful enthusiasm!

Most people understand that governments do not always represent people. If people were judged based on the worst decisions of their governments, everybody would hate everyone.

Most people understand that Trump is deeply unpopular in America. He entered the presidency with the lowest ratings in 40 years; national and international news coverage has reflected this unpopularity. The 2016 election was a major international story. People understand that it was a contentious and close election, and that many people are not happy with Trump being president.

Canadians are everywhere. Any actual Canadian will see through your act the moment they ask, “Where are you from?” and realize you have no knowledge of Canadian geography or expressions.

Canada is also more prominent on the international stage today. Canadian politics used to rarely make international headlines, but that all changed with the election of Justin Trudeau. Suddenly Canadian political news started going viral, like the reveal of Trudeau’s remarkably diverse Cabinet. Non-Canadians may want to talk about Trudeau and if you don’t even know what party he’s from, you’re not going to look good.

If you lie to people initially, then tell the truth once you trust them, you are going to look like an idiot. They may be hurt; they may roll their eyes. They may say, “What’s the big deal?” Save yourself the grief.

Use This As an Opportunity

But most importantly, owning your Americanness is vital to creating understanding around the world. If you’re against Donald Trump, let people know why. Show people that not everyone in America thinks that Trump is good for America. (And hell, if you’re a Trump fan, do the same thing! Share your point of view.)

It’s good to plan out what you want to say ahead of time. Here’s what I plan to say:

“I didn’t vote for Trump. I campaigned and volunteered for Hillary, for Obama before her, and I’ve been a liberal my whole life. I think Trump’s policies are bad for the country and his election is an embarrassment.

“I run my own business and was only able to do so because of Obamacare. Some of my biggest worries are that Obamacare will be repealed without a replacement, leaving me and 20 million Americans without healthcare; that new Supreme Court justices will overturn Roe v. Wade and women won’t have access to safe and legal abortions; that more black Americans will be murdered by the police; that my friends’ children with autism will lose the right to be educated in public schools; that the threat of climate change will worsen and be ignored; and that Trump’s pettiness and fixation on revenge will anger the wrong leader and get us into another war.

“But my biggest worry is how often Trump and his team lie, even about things that can be disproved instantly, and how his supporters will believe the lies because everything they disagree with is ‘fake news.’ I don’t know how to fight this.

“I’m not the only person who feels this way — 3.7 million people marched against Trump in the US alone. 1 out of every 100 Americans protested — that is insane. There were protests on seven continents. Yes, including Antarctica!

“Personally, I don’t think Trump will make it through four years. I think he going to get overwhelmed and go back to New York, letting Pence do all the work while he retains the title of President. And nobody in Congress will do a thing about it.”

That’s my story. Feel free to use any part of it you’d like — but put your own spin on it.

How to Talk to People

When Bush was president, the question I would get the most while traveling was, “Why? Why would anyone vote for him in the first place? Why would anyone reelect him?!”

Expect to get similar questions with Trump. Here are some talking points if you need them:

Why did Trump win?

Lots of Americans felt like they weren’t being heard in Washington and that their lives weren’t getting better, and the best way to enact change was to elect an outsider. Many of these people were white working class voters in regions like the Rust Belt (Wisconsin-Michigan-Ohio-Pennsylvania) where automation has killed the manufacturing industry and lots of people are unemployed or underemployed. Trump spoke directly to these voters throughout his campaign.

Trump also ran a campaign with racially charged rhetoric. Many people found it refreshing that a candidate made it okay to be “not politically correct” anymore. The KKK endorsed him and celebrated his election.

There are other reasons. Some Republicans will vote for any Republican, no matter how vile. Republicans also tend to have more single-issue voters than Democrats. These voters will always support the anti-choice or pro-gun candidate, both of which Trump was.

Then there were many people who didn’t like Hillary. Many people painted her and Trump as equally bad options. Many supporters of Bernie Sanders thought that he should have been the Democratic candidate and they chose to vote third party or not at all.

And then there was the murkiness of the election — Russia’s interference, as well as FBI Director James Comey releasing damaging but ultimately meaningless information about Clinton shortly before the election.

Believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to why Trump won. Political scientists will be engrossed in the 2016 election for generations.

But why didn’t people like Obama?

Lots of people are racist. Far more than would admit to it. This is why Obama had to be the perfect candidate with a perfect family. Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best: “To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds…Donald Trump had to be rich and white.”

Racist people want to destroy every one of Obama’s accomplishments. They even love aspects of Obamacare, like allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance; they just don’t like that Obama created it. As Van Jones said on election night, “This was a whitelash.”

Some people’s health insurance became more expensive when Obamacare went into effect. Obamacare gave 20 million people health insurance and reduced costs for most people, but it wasn’t perfect for everyone, and people whose costs went up were angry.

While much of the country recovered significantly from the 2008 recession when Obama took office, urban areas tended to bounce back more strongly than rural areas and many people in rural areas thought their lives were the same or worse since 2008.

But why didn’t Hillary win if she got nearly 3 million more votes?

The Electoral College awards votes per state based on population, and rural states get slightly more votes. It was originally created to give slave states more votes without letting the slaves vote themselves; it was also created to prevent a demagogue from taking office just in case the people elected a madman (that worked out terrifically). The Electoral College usually lines up with the popular vote, but sometimes it doesn’t. Bush lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in 2000.

Hillary won by a huge margin in solidly blue states like California, where a win was predetermined; Trump won by a very slim margin in swing states like Michigan, where a win was vital.

The Electoral College is outdated and needs to go. But with a Republican-controlled government, the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim.

The One Exception

The only time that I would recommend lying about being American is if doing so would keep you safe in an otherwise dangerous situation. There may be a time when it’s best to lie low and hide your nationality until you’re in a safer position.

Just remember:

Not wanting to talk about Donald Trump again is not a dangerous situation.

Thinking that someone might make fun of you is not a dangerous situation.

But if you somehow get swept into an anti-American demonstration on the street, yes, that’s when it’s time to lie and say you’re Canadian. But you’re unlikely to fall into a situation like that unless you go looking for it. And it’s best to get yourself the fuck away rather than spend time chatting.

And One Last Caveat…

If anything, Trump has shown us that he will act recklessly at best, vindictively at worst. He’s repeatedly shown a disdain for facts, an obsession with those who have wronged him, and that he cares more about Putin than the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

So it’s very likely that something bad could happen under a president like this. War. And worse. Things so bad I don’t even want to type them.

If that happens, all bets are off. Save yourselves.

The photos in this post were taken during the Women’s March in New York City, where I was among 400,000 women and allies warning the new administration not to cut off our rights. Thank you to everyone who marched. Remember to be politically active, hold your representatives accountable, and take concentrated actions every week — we’re going to need all the momentum we can get.

Americans, would you ever pretend to be Canadian? Or do you think it’s a bad idea? What’s going to happen over the next four years? Share away!

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My Plan for 2017: A Commitment to Fitness

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For years, I lived my life with one solid focus: to travel the world as much as possible and build my career as a travel blogger. And it was good. Lord, was it good.

But over time, I learned that being singularly focused means that everything else in your life suffers to a degree. Relationships. Other interests. And most importantly, health. Case in point: almost every travel blogger who has given up full-time travel has cited health as a reason.

When I finally felt the travel desire waning, it was a blessing. For the first time, I felt the freedom to create a fixed life in New York. Now that I’ve been managing that for a year, it’s time to turn my efforts toward improving my health.

The Background

I grew up very thin, put on weight throughout my twenties, then lost 20+ pounds in 2010, just in time for me to start my travels in Southeast Asia. How? I basically starved myself. It wasn’t healthy.

You can see in the pics from back then that I was super thin but had no muscle tone. I was the epitome of skinny fat.

After Southeast Asia, the weight packed back on. And while I would lose a few pounds here and there, I was never able to commit to anything. Yoga? BORED. YouTube workouts? MAYBE FOR A FEW WEEKS. Paid video workouts? DIDN’T LAST. Running? HURT MYSELF AND STOPPED. Walking a ton? NOT ENOUGH CARDIO.

And so I found nothing that worked. As a result, my weight stayed the same. And I am so fucking sick and tired.

I’m tired of contorting myself into the skinniest position possible while posing for photos.

I’m tired of traveling with gorgeous friends with hot bodies and feeling like the resident lump.

I’m tired of hiding on beaches behind sarongs and caftans.

I’m tired of traveling with brilliant photographer friends and ending up photos of a fat girl I don’t recognize.

For five and a half years I’ve been looking at photos of myself and thinking, “That’s not me.”

So I’m finally taking action. In a big way. Here is how I am going to change my life with fitness.

Exercise Goals:

Join Equinox.

Yes, I drank the #committosomething Kool-Aid. There was a promotion in December where there was no initiation fee for joining Equinox (usually $300-500), so that was the incentive that brought me in.

(Note: this January you can still join Equinox with no initiation fee if you work out 12 times in your first 30 days! Tell them Kate McCulley recommended you.)

I held off because I wanted to join a gym like Healthworks Back Bay, where I went in Boston. Healthworks is a luxurious all-female gym and I went all the time because I loved the atmosphere. And there actually isn’t an equivalent in New York. I went back and forth — did I really want to work out with boys who used all the heavy weights and made me feel inadequate?

Turns out a coed gym wasn’t the problem. My core issue was that I didn’t want to feel intimidated. And I lucked out — I go to the Equinox on West 92nd St., which is in a residential zone and thus reflects the locals: there are a lot of older people. Classes tend to be young and nearly all female, but usually at least two thirds of the floor is filled with people in their fifties and older. The kind of people who say, “Why, thank you, young lady!” when I hold a door for them (so sweet). And because of that, I don’t feel intimidated at all!

For what it’s worth, not every Equinox is like that. I’ve heard the downtown locations have a hotter crowd and the SoHo location in particular is popular with models.

And to acknowledge the elephant in the room — yes, it’s an expensive gym. I wish it weren’t. But for someone like me who has tried and failed so many different fitness plans over the years and has only succeeded staying in shape when she has a fancy gym to go to? GIVE ME THE FANCY PLACE WITH THE COOL CLASSES. All day. I need that as motivation. And their app. God, Equinox has an awesome app.

Honestly, if I joined Planet Fitness or even NYSC, I wouldn’t be motivated to go. Equinox is super nice and fancy and I love going there. Spending that money is worth it because it’s keeping me in shape.

Get a personal trainer.

I didn’t see this on the horizon, but surprise — I have a trainer now! Equinox matched me with Gayle, a trainer who met the criteria I asked for (female, not a drill sergeant type, wouldn’t mind my sporadic travel schedule) and I see her twice a week for strength training.

I went into the gym as a fitness newbie — I have no clue how to work out on the machines or what my form should be or how hard to push myself or how to design a circuit. Even when I went to Healthworks in Boston, I avoided the machines because I didn’t know how to use them. This way, Gayle is helping me go from an unshaped ball of clay to a very fit human being with a routine customized to all my personal strengths and weaknesses.

Try 20 classes at Equinox before the end of the year.

I am a class junkie — I love group fitness, especially fast-moving dance-y classes, and it’s one of the best ways to motivate me to go to the gym. Equinox is known for its excellent classes and instructors. I’m already impressed at what the difference can be between an average Zumba instructor and a great Zumba instructor.

I *could* take 20 different classes at my gym on 92nd St., but that would mean taking virtually every class they offer, so I may look into expanding into a global membership, letting me check out other clubs and classes.

Get up the nerve to take a spin class.

The idea of spinning, or indoor cycling, has always terrified me, especially after hearing accounts of intimidating instructors from friends. It seems like everyone yells at you, and I don’t feel strong enough to join in yet!

I will get up the nerve, and I will do it. Maybe in a month or so.

Figure out how to keep up exercise while traveling.

This is the one that stumps me the most. Everything I’ve tried while traveling has not worked long-term. I think my best solution may be trying to find Zumba classes when traveling in the US or major cities.

Lose 25 pounds by Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the last weekend in May and the unofficial kickoff to the summer, non-American readers. And I think losing 25 pounds a week, which works out to just a little over a pound per week, is a very reasonable goal.

My body assessment calculated that my optimal goal should be to lose 33 pounds of fat and add 11 pounds of muscle. So losing 25 pounds will get me to a good, bikini-worthy weight, but I think I can lose another 5-10 pounds beyond that.

Get sexy, defined clavicles again.

I want my clavicles to be sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

Diet Goals:

Aim to eat paleo 80% of the time.

I’ve always thought the paleo diet made the most sense — lots of vegetables with meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding processed foods, sugar, dairy, and grains. It sounded so healthy — I just didn’t want to commit to it.

Then I promised my trainer I would give up sugar and carbs (not all carbs, just bread and pasta and rice). And then I dropped dairy as well and didn’t miss it. I guess this is what I’m doing now.

Doing it 80% is a smart choice because it keeps me from being miserable and it makes socializing easier. I went out for Vietnamese food at Anchoi on the Lower East Side and enjoyed pho and summer rolls with rice noodles and rice paper, and didn’t care. I had a little shaved parmesan on a kale caesar salad at Sweetgreen and loved it, too.

I’m not going to splurge aimlessly — I’m going to save them up for really good reasons. Like a Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream in the Village or the fettuccine al’amatriciana at Emilio’s Ballato in SoHo.

Commit to cooking paleo at home.

I love to cook. And there are so many great paleo recipes on the internet! I’ve been experimenting and having a great time. I made a grass-fed beef chili so good that I nearly cried. And my new favorite things are date-almond-coconut bars made with nothing but those three ingredients.

In the process, I’ve also started shopping at the Trader Joe’s on 72nd St. more often, rather than relying on the subpar markets in my neighborhood. Not only is Trader Joe’s shockingly cheap (like, cheaper than Amazon cheap), they also have a nice selection of organic options and cool store products. (The only thing? The checkout line stretches for AGES, even on a random Tuesday afternoon.)

Make smarter choices about alcohol.

I’m still doing a sober month once a year (though I didn’t write about it in 2016), which I recommend to everyone. It’s good to give your body a break and remind yourself how to socialize without booze. It made my skin clear up so much, too.

I’m not giving up alcohol entirely, but I’m making smarter choices about what I drink. I don’t drink at home to begin with, and when I go out, I choose wine (usually red or champagne) or spirits, ideally low-cal vodka sodas with (a lot of) lime.

And if I get a cocktail, I try to get a relatively clean cocktail. At Attaboy on the Lower East Side (amazing speakeasy and one of the best cocktail bars I’ve ever been to), the bartender made me a Bee Sting: gin, lemon, honey, ginger. At Red Rooster, the restaurant that literally made me want to move to Harlem, I got an Earl of Harlem: bourbon with Earl Grey tea and lemon.

Off the menu are beer, sugary cocktails, and anything involving soda or high-cal mixers like tonic.

Make smarter choices about caffeine.

I’ve become a latte-a-day girl, and as much as I love them, they’re not the smartest choice. They add a lot of calories and the dairy isn’t great for you. Plus, I don’t mind drinking (good) coffee black!

When I go out to cafes now, whether to work or for a pick-me-up, I restrict myself to either black coffee or herbal tea. No sugar, ever, but I didn’t use sugar anyway.

I’ve also been experimenting with bulletproof coffee: a cup of coffee with a tablespoon of organic unsalted grass-fed butter and a tablespoon of organic coconut oil. I only do it pre-workout, but it makes me feel like I have rocket fuel in my veins.

Make smarter choices about animal products.

This year I’m going to make a bigger commitment to cooking only with organic, free-range, antibiotic-free eggs and poultry, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish. These kinds of animal products are so much healthier for you than the conventional options.

Unfortunately, meat this good comes at a price — it’s very expensive. I’ll try to get what I can for cheap at Trader Joe’s, but they don’t have everything. I plan on making lots of visits to Harlem Shambles, one of the best butcher shops in the city.

Mental Health Goals:

Meditate more often.

I pay for the Headspace app but don’t use it nearly enough. It’s funny how I can while away ten minutes on Facebook without noticing but ten minutes of meditation makes me think, “Do I really have time for that?” Hell yes, Kate, you have time for that!

The truth? Meditation always helps me relax, focus, and feel more in control. Sometimes it even cures my headaches! There’s really no reason not to do it. I’d like to do it a few times a week.

Let go of the body baggage.

I grew up in a thin family. I graduated from high school at 5’4″ and 109 pounds and didn’t start putting on weight until later in college, then kept adding more and more in my twenties and thirties.

My family members are wonderful, smart, funny people. But nobody’s perfect, and looking back, I realize that when I was growing up, we were not as kind and accepting of overweight people as we should have been. It never lapsed into mocking or cruelty, but there were constant negative comments when talking about people heavier than we were.

Two examples of that? I remember when I was in a play and one 15-year-old girl had to do a move where she flung her arms outward. I noticed nothing unusual about it, but I remember my mom saying, “If I had a daughter whose arms jiggled like that, I’d have her on a workout plan so fast.” (And because I know a lot of people from home read this blog — she wasn’t talking about someone from Reading. This was at summer camp.)

And I remember once at church when a family of three came in. Both of the parents were obese and each used two canes to walk. Their son, probably around 12 at the time, was overweight. “That kid is doomed,” I remember my dad saying as soon as we were home.

It was during college when I realized that making negative comments about overweight people was neither kind nor common. I spent a few years rewiring my brain and trying to become a better person.

So, what’s it like to grow up thin in a family where thinness is prized but you end up heavy? It’s been rough. I’ve felt like an embarrassment to my family for many years now, especially after being a heavy bridesmaid in two weddings. My weight is frequently a topic whenever I’m home, but it’s more along the lines of, “So what are you doing to work out now?” They’re not mean about it, but it’s tough to know that they would hold a better opinion of me if I lost it.

I need to keep working through that.

Use the SELF Journal for fitness goals.

I supported the SELF Journal on Kickstarter and got one of my own but haven’t even started using it yet! Talk about the height of laziness.

It’s part day planner, part bullet journal. It helps you set your daily and weekly goals and lay out the steps you’ll take to get there.

I particularly like that it has sections for daily gratitudes, both in the morning and the night.

Make peace with the fact that I’m going to lose my boobs.

Because, really, they’re exceptional. And I don’t say that lightly.

Get up early — perhaps a monthly challenge of getting up early.

I got this idea from Lauren of Neverending Footsteps — she wants to spend a month waking up early, like at 4:00 or 5:00 AM.

I love getting up early, but I rarely do it — I feel like I’m wired to do my best work at night, especially when it comes to writing, and it’s not unusual for me to be putting the finishing touches on a blog post at 2:00 or 3:00 AM. Even though I don’t want to.

So perhaps I should make a concentrated effort to get up at 5:00 AM for a month and see how it goes. That would be easy to take on the road, too!

Put phone on airplane mode long before bed until long after you’re up.

C’est Christine recently posted about doing this and I’m a big fan — it’s nice to know there are no distractions when you’re trying to get to bed. And this way, my eyelids start fluttering while I’m still reading and I fall asleep immediately.

It also helps me get up in the morning and get things done before getting sucked into social media.

So, how’s it going so far?

Well, we’re 17 days into the New Year, so I’m well aware that I’m in the “This is awesome!” stage of things and keeping it up will get more challenging.

So far, though, I feel amazing. I don’t know whether it’s the workouts or the diet, but I feel so focused and aware and light and I have an easier time getting work done. My skin is soft, too.

And the big one: I’ve lost five pounds in two weeks and my jeans are loose in the butt region. Five pounds is a lot of weight to lose that fast, but it’s common to lose fast at first, and I’m certain the weight loss will soon taper down to a more-reasonable one pound per week.

I plan on doing little fitness updates in my monthly recaps and a bigger post around Memorial Day or once I hit a major milestone.

But what I really, truly hope is that this is the beginning of a major lifestyle change for me. I’ve waited long enough.

What fitness goals do you have for 2017? What has worked for you? Share away!

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How to Fall in Love with Kraków in 30 Steps

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I wondered if I was doing myself a disservice, waiting so long to visit Kraków and Poland as a whole. As much as I hate to admit it, you do lose a bit of sense of wonder when you travel constantly. Would I greet Kraków with the enthusiasm of my early twenties? Or be underwhelmed and head to cafes to work the whole time?

The good news, however, is that traveling this much teaches you what you like and don’t like. You can often tell in an instant. And that’s how Kraków was for me. It hit me all at once. It was beautiful, it was comfortable, it was interesting. This is a great place, I said to myself.

Here’s how I fell in love with Kraków. In 30 steps.

1. Start by walking a few minutes from your accommodation to the main square.

2. Admire the purple flowers that seem to be everywhere.

3. Discover a gentleman making bubbles for the kids! Play with them, take hundreds of photos, and curse the little girl in the pink shirt for jumping in front of all your photos.

4. Try to catch a moment where the bubble guy looks like God. This will do.

5. Realize that the whole Old Town is encircled by a park. Think to yourself that if you lived here, walking this park would be how you caught up on all your podcasts.

6. Pass a sidewalk cafe and debate whether to go in and get a cup of coffee — until this girl catches you taking a photo and you feel too intimidated to set foot beyond the fence.

7. Head back into the Old Town, find another coffee shop, and order a coconut latte topped with blue syrup. Giggle when you realize that you’ve only had coconut lattes in Guatemala and Poland.

8. Realize that the light is changing fast and head back to the main square to photograph the sunset. Be immediately spellbound by the exquisite, perfect light.

9. Catch the clock tower and a wisp of cotton candy clouds.

10. Nearly burst into tears at how perfect the colors are. This photo won’t need a single tweak. Marvel that it’s just the kind of photo that will do great on Instagram. (Spoiler: it does.)

11. Say goodnight to the sunset and the purest light you’ve seen since Japan.

12. Practice a little panning on your camera with the many tourist vehicles that drive by.

13. Try a few motion shots of the trams as well. Why not? The sky looks great!

14. Pick up your laundry from Frania Cafe, the cafe laundromat where you dropped it off three hours earlier. Wonder to yourself whether a laundromat cafe would work in your neighborhood in New York. It could be great. Also, rejoice at getting to wear a bra again.

15. Spend a morning hopping around Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. Hop in and out of the vintage boutiques and odd shops, then meet up with a lovely reader of yours.

16. Realize that you’re falling into the trap of imagining what your life would be like if you lived here. Even though you know it won’t be happening. Do you have a ghost life here?

17. Stroll up to the cathedral at Wawel Castle.

18. Take another pic that you know will do great on Instagram. It does.

19. Contemplate adding a knocker like this to your apartment in New York.

20. Head to one of your reader’s favorite spots, Camelot, a funky cafe in the Old Town.

21. Get up to use the bathroom…and take photos of everything inside.

22. Taste your first Polish cheesecake — it’s milder than its American counterpart, and not as smooth, but very delicious, especially with berries.

23. Take an evening stroll to confirm that yes, Kraków looks just as good by night.

24. Discover that paczki, Polish donuts, are apparently being sold right around the corner from your guesthouse! Give in to temptation, purchase one, wait until you’re in the privacy of your room, then take a bite and sigh.

25. Eat soup. Again and again. Decide that Poland is your new favorite soup country in the world.

26. See that there is a Sephora near the main square and this is all that matters right now. Realize they only stock foundations for the very pale, but get recommended an eyebrow pencil that you use till this day.

27. Follow a group of four friends around the park — then realize that they remind you of The Wizard of Oz!

28. Evaluate whether you’ve been missing out by only having two beers during your entire duration in Poland.

29. Admire the first trees turning red for fall.

30. And finally, on your final night in the city, capture the perfect sunburst after five or six tries. Vow to remember this moment forever.

Essential Info: In Kraków I stayed at Poselska Góscinne Guesthouse, one of the best budget guesthouses I’ve experienced in a long time. It was close to perfect: good-sized private room with a private bath, super comfortable, great internet, modern facilities, very nice owners, in an ideal location in the heart of the Old Town. AND they charge solo travelers less! Double rooms 150-180 zloty ($36-44) for one person, 230-260 zloty ($56-63) for two people.

Two restaurants I loved happened to be on the same street as the guesthouse: Restauracja Miód Malina has delicious local food in a building from the 1300s, while Corse is an outstanding Corsican restaurant (what a surprise to find it in Poland!). And the cafe pictured above with the cheesecake is Camelot.

If you plan to visit Auschwitz from Kraków, I urge you to book as early as possible. I didn’t go in part because the English tours were sold out. More information is here.

Don’t visit Kraków without travel insurance — it could save your life. I use World Nomads for insurance on every trip I take and I highly recommend them.

Have you been to Krakow? Or does it look like your kind of city?

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Where to Go in 2017: Kate’s Top 12 Picks

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January is a time for goal-setting and making those long-held travel dreams a reality. This is the time to start saving and making tentative plans for one of your long-held dream trips.

Now — if you have a specific, long-held travel dream, that’s what you should prioritize! I always encourage people to go after their biggest travel dreams. But if you need a little nudge from me, here are some of my top picks for 2017, one for each month of the year.

January: Shetland Islands

Why? Up Helly Aa, one of the world’s wildest festivals, takes place on the last Tuesday in January.

When people ask me about the best things I’ve done while traveling, I always mention Up Helly Aa. To this day, I consider it one of the coolest things I’ve experienced and one of my best travel memories, if not the best. Imagine a festival of fire and Vikings and costumes and performances and dancing to traditional music until 8:00 in the morning! I joined Haggis Adventures’ Up Helly Aa tour (where they hosted me in exchange for coverage). If it’s too late to sign up now, I recommend signing up for next year!

Shetland struck me with its raw, remote, jagged beauty, shaped by cold temperatures and strong winds. And “quirky” is too gentle a word for Lerwick, where the accents are barely understandable and the men threw things at me in the bar to get my attention. I loved every minute of my time there.

Where to go: The biggest celebration is in the capital of Lerwick, but smaller Up Helly Aa celebrations take place throughout the islands. Be sure to take the time to explore Shetland as well. There are lots of beautiful views around Scalloway and my favorite stop was the double beach en route to St. Ninian’s Isle.

Further Reading: Up Helly Aa: Possibly My Best Adventure Yet, The Raw Beauty of Shetland

February: Louisiana

Why? There will be a month of Mardi Gras celebrations in February 2017, and destinations beyond New Orleans need your tourist dollars.

Mardi Gras takes place on February 28 this year, and that’s when the biggest celebration takes place in New Orleans. But many New Orleans locals prefer to head to carnivals elsewhere in Louisiana. These local celebrations mostly take place earlier than Mardi Gras itself, making it a month full of celebrations. You can find a schedule here.

Louisiana was subject to severe flooding last year, which was concentrated in the regions surrounding Baton Rouge and Lafayette. While the flooding is over now, the economic impact is still taking place and the region could use your tourism dollars to help recover. (Not to mention the fact that many places outside New Orleans are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.) The best way to do this? Road trip! Louisiana is a beautiful state and it’s home to unique culinary traditions you won’t find anywhere else in the United States. Go for the parades; stay for the gumbo and boudin and beignets.

Where to go? In my time in Louisiana I only visited New Orleans and Oak Alley Plantation, both of which I highly recommend, but Baton Rouge and Lafayette are quirky cities that deserve your attention. Jean Lafitte National Park is a great place to check out the state’s beautiful swamps. And Grand Ile is the state’s only inhabited barrier island and a wonderful base to explore the outdoors.

Further reading: Mardi Gras: Music, Magic, and Mayhem in New Orleans, Oak Alley Plantation

March: Nicaragua

Why: Incredible weather in a dreary month in a destination on the verge of change.

Nicaragua is my favorite country in Central America and it’s a wonderful place to escape the doldrums of winter. March is one of my favorite months to escape to somewhere warm — spring might be around the corner, but by then you are just sick of the cold and are craving sunshine! In March, Nicaragua is hot, sunny, and very cheap.

Nicaragua is also on the precipice of transition. The Chinese have been planning on building a canal through Lake Nicaragua, though the project has been postponed many times. As soon as that happens, it’s going to destroy much of the beautiful coastline and change the country’s atmosphere. Furthermore, Little Corn Island is also changing at a rapid pace. What was once a nearly unknown island is becoming increasingly traversed and that could lead to it losing its desert island feel. In other words, go now, go now, go now before it changes too much.

Where to go: Nicaragua has so many amazing destinations and one you should skip (Managua, the capital). Granada is a beautiful colonial town and the nearby Laguna de Apoyo is the perfect escape from the city. León in the northwest is a wild, vibrant, traditional city. San Juan del Sur is a colorful party town. Ometepe, an island in the lake, is a peaceful, serene getaway. And perhaps my favorite is Little Corn Island in the Caribbean.

Further reading: Rocking Out on Little Corn Island, Ometepe: Inside Nicaragua’s Volcanic Island, The Most Colorful City of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, Alive in León, Nicaragua: The City of Revolution

April: Thailand

Why: Songkran, a three-day water fight throughout the country, takes place April 13-15.

April is the month when Thailand shifts from the cool season to the hot season — and there’s no better way to welcome that heat than with a three-day water fight. Songkran, Thai New Year, takes place in April and I’ve never seen a country drop everything to have a water fight! Thais wear flowered shirts, sit in the back of pickup trucks, and drive around shooting everyone they see with super soakers. Tuk-tuks are doused in buckets of water. Everyone from kids to adults gets involved in the celebration!

Nobody is off limits during Songkran (except monks and the elderly). Just walking down the street will get you attacked with a deluge by Thais who love to joyfully assault the visiting farangs (foreigners). I love this because everyone is in the same boat and you don’t need to speak the same language to share an experience with locals! Songkran, along with Up Helly Aa, is one of the best festivals I’ve ever experienced around the world, and I recommend you go at least once in your life.

Where to go: I highly recommend spending Songkran in Bangkok with a focus on the neighborhoods around Khao San Road and in Silom, but many of my friends swear that it’s better in Chiang Mai (where people even attack from the moat!). I suggest spending the three days in either of those two cities, then continuing your Thai travels elsewhere. If you want to add beach time, go to Krabi Province and my favorite island in the world, Koh Lanta; if you want a funky little mountain town near Chiang Mai, go to Pai.

Further reading: Songkran in Bangkok: The Greatest Festival on Earth

May: Western Australia

Why? As close as you can get to perfect weather all the way up and down the coast — with the added bonus of whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef.

If you like off the beaten path destinations and great Instagram shots, you will LOVE Western Australia. WA is one of the best photography destinations I’ve ever visited and I was struck by its desolation and beauty. The landscape is so varied and the people are so friendly.

WA is also a behemoth of a region — it’s roughly one third of Australia! So it’s hard to find one month where you have decent weather throughout the region. My October trip was pretty good for weather timing; May has similar temperatures. But May has the added bonus of being in the heart of whale shark season at Ningaloo Reef. Ningaloo Reef is much closer to shore and far less trafficked than the Great Barrier Reef and it’s home to some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced — adding whale sharks to the mix would make it even better!

Where to go: You will likely arrive in Perth, and take time to explore the city and get out to Rottnest Island for quokka selfies. A road trip to Coral Bay should be your big goal, as Ningaloo Reef is nothing short of spellbinding, and there are lots of stops along the way like the Pinnacles Desert, Kalbarri, and the Shark Bay region. But if you want something really special, head to Karijini National Park. Alternatively, Broome and the Kimberley are still in dry season during this time of year. It will be chillier on the southern coast, though.

Further reading: My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

June: Britain

Why? It’s never been cheaper to visit, there’s truly something for everyone, and you’ll have some of the best weather of the year in June.

Following Brexit, the pound fell significantly in value, making Britain the cheapest it’s been in my lifetime. It used to hover around $1.55 to the pound; these days it’s $1.23 to the pound. This is bad news for Brits and those who earn in pounds (myself included), but it’s good news for international visitors who want to visit Britain.

Living in Britain for a few years helped me realize that this country is so nuanced and far more diverse than you think. The biggest mistake international travelers make is thinking that Britain = London. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This country is filled with plenty more funky cities, gorgeous landscapes and interesting small villages. And the food happens to be fantastic — especially when it comes to local meats and cheeses and decadent desserts! The weather is hit or miss, but in June you’ll likely have more hits than misses.

Where to go? London is wonderful, but don’t overlook other English destinations. Liverpool is a cool city; York is a magical town; the Lake District and the Cotswolds are fantastic countryside spots. In Wales I recently road tripped through the south (don’t miss the used bookstore paradise of Hay-on-Wye or the pretty seaside town of Tenby); in the north, Snowdonia National Park, Conwy, and Llangollen are wonderful.

Scotland is brimming with wonderful destinations, from Edinburgh to the Highlands to Shetland (once again!). I particularly love the Isle of Skye and hope to visit the Outer Hebrides soon. And don’t forget that Northern Ireland is on the pound too! The Causeway Coast is indescribably beautiful.

Further reading: The Most Glorious Spirit: A Week of Gin in the UKA Dreamy Trip to South Wales, My Love Affair with Scotland, What I’ve Learned From 1.5 Years in the UK

July: Coastal New England

Why? New England might be frigid for most of the year, but summer is when this region comes to life.

Coastal New England is such a large region — it extends from Connecticut’s hemmed-in coastline to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, a sliver of New Hampshire coastline, then onto Maine. I find it best to explore this region on a road trip — you could cover so much ground! But wherever you go, you’ll find beautiful small towns with excellent seafood, beautiful beaches, and people enjoying the glorious summer.

Eat lobster rolls on a bench by the beach. Catch a baseball game — Red Sox, minor league, or something local. Browse antique markets and culinary shops. Time your visit during the Fourth of July for fireworks, parades, and other small town celebrations. But anytime in July is beautiful — just know that you’re in the thick of high season and will experience a lot of traffic!

Where to go? I’m from the North Shore of Massachusetts, and I can recommend exploring the North Shore towns of Newburyport, Rockport, Salem, and Gloucester. Boston is wonderful. Cape Cod is as fabulous as people say. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of my favorite small cities. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is the Maine Diner in Wells, Maine (if nothing else, GET THE SEAFOOD CHOWDER), and I love the towns of Ogunquit and York, though you can’t miss Acadia National Park further north. Portland, Maine, is an up-and-coming foodie paradise. And perhaps this will finally be the year that I get to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket!

Further reading: Bachelorettes on the Run in Portland, Maine, Photo Essay: Beautiful Rockport, Massachusetts, Photo Essay: Cape Cod Houses, A Day at the Maine Diner

August: Finland

Why? Summer in the Nordics is nothing short of magical, and perhaps there’s no better place to chill out and enjoy the outdoors than Finland.

On my summer trip to Finland a few years ago, I enjoyed perfect 82-degree (28 C) days, bike rides through the woods, kayaking trips across lakes, and late nights roasting sausages by the campfire. Most memorably, I went sauna-hopping and skinny-dipping under the midnight sun. How wonderful does that sound? That’s exactly how summer should be!

Finland is an offbeat destination in the Nordics and my personal favorite country in the Nordics. Soon, you’ll realize that Finns are among the most physically active people you’ve ever met (and also happen to drink a ton of coffee — these facts may be related). ATMs are available but uncommon; people love to use plastic. And reindeer is a delicious staple on the menu. Finland is full of surprises. And because it’s such an offbeat destination, you won’t find the hordes of crowds in other European destinations in August.

Where to go? Your journey will likely begin in Helsinki, which I think is a vastly underrated city. The Lakes Region is a wonderful place to explore the outdoors; I spent time in Kuhmo. But my favorite and most surprising destination was Rauma, a small UNESCO World Heritage-listed city on the sea with a surprising amount of culture and things to do.

Further reading: A Magical Journey Through Rauma, FinlandKuhmo Chamber Music Festival: Sweet Notes in a Warm Finnish Summer

September: Balkans

Why? All of the heat and beauty of a summer trip with far fewer tourists.

September is my favorite month to travel in Europe and the Balkans are my favorite region in the world, making this a match made in heaven. The Balkans can be incredibly crowded in the summer months, especially in cruise ship ports, but once you get to September, things slow down considerably. Also, the Adriatic takes some time to warm up but is much warmer by the end of the summer!

What do I love about this region? The natural beauty, the mountains and cliffs and fjords and bright turquoise lakes. The architecture, the orthodox churches and mosques that dot the cities. The fresh seafood, cured meats and hard cheeses. And those unforgettable Croatian wines! I love the cafe culture, where everyone bursts out of their homes and walks the streets just before sunset. And in the more touristy areas, English is widely spoken. The Balkans might seem intimidating, but they are very easy to travel.

Where to go? For first-timers, I recommend Croatia’s Dalmatian coast with a side trip to Mostar, Bosnia, and a little time in Montenegro — Kotor makes a great base. You could also combine Slovenia with time in Croatia’s Istria region. If you want to get off the beaten path (and spend the least money), I highly recommend Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo. Urban junkies should know that the best cities in the region are Ljubljana and Belgrade, though I have a soft spot for Tirana as well!

Further reading: Don’t Let Croatia Slip Through Your Fingers, What’s it Like to Travel in Albania?A Road Trip Through Slovenia, Kosovo: A Warm Welcome from a Newborn CountryDubrovnik Survival Guide, Montenegro: The Most Beautiful Country in Europe, Macedonia: This Magnificent Country Will Surprise You, Briefly, Belgrade, Life After War: Sarajevo Today

October: South Africa

Why? Beautiful weather, cheap prices, pregnant animals on safari, and purple jacaranda trees in bloom.

I always promote South Africa as a high value destination and this year is no different! Seriously. It might be a long or pricey flight there, particularly if you’re from North America, but once you get on the ground, your money goes so far. Take this fact: I brought home six reserve wines from Stellenbosch and not one cost more than $11. How insane is that?! I pay $15 for generic wine in New York! You can go bungee jumping, paragliding, or surfing for far less than what you’d pay in the States or Australia or New Zealand. You can have a fancy meal for a fraction of the cost of other western countries.

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited with a wide variety of landscapes, and they change quickly if you’re driving the Garden Route. I also believe that a safari is something that every traveler should do at least once, and Kruger National Park is an excellent place to go. I’ve lucked out and seen the Big Five on my two different trips to Kruger! And many of those animals will be pregnant if you go in October. But my favorite thing about October, besides the beautiful spring weather, is seeing bright purple jacaranda trees in bloom.

Where to go? At the very least, go to Cape Town and go on safari in Kruger National Park. I can’t imagine a first-time trip without either of those. Beyond that, tailor it to your interests: I absolutely loved road tripping the Garden Route, Stellenbosch is a fantastic and shockingly cheap wine region, and Johannesburg is a surprisingly fun city. Off the beaten path, I really enjoyed Cintsa and the Wild Coast, which lives up to its name.

Further reading: Adventurous Kate’s Offbeat Guide to Cape Town, The Ultimate South Africa Road Trip Itinerary, Is South Africa Safe?

November: Japan

Why? Few places are as beautiful to photograph in the fall colors as Japan — and most of Japan’s peak color hits in November.

Japan remains one of my favorite countries and the single most encompassing place I’ve ever been. Literally everything is fascinating — the vending machines. The subway maps. Even the trash cans! The food is world-class and prepared with reverence, even in fast food joints. And the Japanese will bend over backwards trying to help you in every way. Japan feels more like a different world than anywhere I’ve ever been.

I’ve been to Japan in the summer, but it was so brutally hot and humid that it made it difficult to enjoy being outside (especially in Kyoto, where locals walked around with towels on their heads). Spring is popular for the cherry blossom season, but fall is another beautiful time of year that gets far less press. The colors here are brilliant, as anyone who grew up with a Japanese maple in her front yard (yes, me again) can attest.

Where to go? So many options! Tokyo is the incomparable city where most trips will begin. The Kansai region is home to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kobe — all interesting destinations in their own right. You could enjoy seaside spas in Kanazawa or the old city of Nikko. Head up north to Hokkaido (though know the leaves change much earlier here) or down south to Okinawa for something tropical.

Further reading: What’s It Really Like to Travel Japan?, Bright, Brash and Funky Osaka, Golden Gai: Tokyo’s Coolest Bar Neighborhood

December: Germany

Why? Nowhere in the world does the Christmas season better than Germany. Period.

It starts in the late weeks of November but is in full swing until December 23: Christmas markets all over the country. Now, there may be Christmas markets all over Europe, but nothing compares to traditional German Christmas markets. Each night, they swell with locals and visitors, featuring delicious sausages, gluhwein (hot mulled wine), lebkuchen (gingerbread), and a variety of local dishes and pastries. Traditional handmade crafts are sold as well, and depending where you go, you could get everything from live music performances (so nice in Nuremberg) to hunky merman tree ornaments (I see you, Pink Market in Munich!).

My German Christmas market trip last year was one of the best trips I took in 2016. It was a nice, relaxing week spent among locals and it made me realize that the Germans really have Christmas figured out. It’s all about spending time drinking warm beverages outside with loved ones, rather than racing around trying to get all your gifts in time. I’m already trying to figure out how I can go back next year.

Where to go? I really enjoyed traveling through the Bavaria region, which is an ideal trip for first-timers. I visited Munich, Nuremberg (the best Christmas market of all), Bamberg, Regensburg, and Passau. But some other exceptional Christmas markets are in Berlin (my favorite place in Germany), Dresden, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Next year I’d love to travel along the Rhine and visit the markets in Heidelberg, Dusseldorf, and Cologne.

Further reading: Christmas in Bavaria in 25 Photos

Where do you recommend going in 2017? Share away!

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AK Monthly Recap: December 2016

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Kate in Passau

And just like that, 2016 is over. It couldn’t have come soon enough. I didn’t buy into the “Fuck 2016” memes until the election in November, and then I was fully on board. Talk about an awful year.

Now that it’s 2017, even though it’s just an arbitrary difference, I feel like a lot of people will be able to let go of anger and begin welcoming more positivity into their lives. I feel inspired to get a lot of work done this year.

I already recapped a lot of this month in my best of the year posts, so let’s push on through and talk about what made this month special.

New York from the Reservoir

Destinations Visited

New York, New York

Munich, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Regensburg, and Passau, Germany

Reading and Lynn, Massachusetts

Favorite Destinations

Regensburg really jived with me — its small size, its pastel colors, its many espresso bars.

Nuremberg is fun and has the best Christmas market ever.

Kate at Bamberg

Highlights

The big travel highlight was my Christmas market trip to Bavaria. Uncharacteristically, I wrote the post before the month’s end, so you can check it out here: Christmas in Bavaria.

That was a nice trip. An easy trip. A chilled out trip. A trip that I planned and got to enjoy on my own terms, which is exactly what I needed at the time. A trip where most of the itinerary involved aimless wandering, taking trains, and drinking various warm beverages.

I also got to see lots of blogger friends, spent time with a reader in Passau, and met up with a friend I met in Colombia in Munich!

Spending Christmas at home. I still feel crazy guilty for missing Christmases in 2010, 2012 and 2013, so it’s always good to go home and spend time with my family, drink a lot of port with my dad, and do a lot of cooking with my mom.

I also sent my first Christmas cards ever! This is one of the things I looked forward to most when getting a place of my own! I definitely wanted to send a funny card that wasn’t the usual sad-single-girl-drinking-and-eating-her-sorrows-away-at-Christmas variety. So I chose to do something different…

Kate and the Rock Christmas Card

Spending New Year’s in Harlem. I haven’t done much on New Year’s over the past few years, mostly due to memories of walking through deep snow in high heels in downtown Boston to spend $75 on a cover charge (but hey, free glass of champagne!), but I wanted to go out this year. The best thing? Two bars in my neighborhood were having a New Year’s pajama party. My sister and I went and it was so nice to be comfy while drinking spiked Capri Sun packets!

Two great New York activities. I had a great time gallivanting around New York this month, but two activities stand out: first, my friend Oneika and I went to a holiday showcase of Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They were all 21 and under — and we were both blown away at how good some of the singers and musicians were! Such a cool event, and it was nice to see so many families with kids in the audience.

The other was when my friends Amy and Anubha came into town. On a whim, we decided to go to Death and Co., a popular cocktail bar in the East Village. Well, we picked the right night — it was their 10-year anniversary and all their expensive cocktails were just $5! So much fun.

Sarah and Kate at the Wallace

This month I got my hair re-keratined and left it in a long time. I left the keratin in about 88 hours before washing it (48 isn’t enough and I aim for 72) and as a result, my hair has never been this straight this long! I don’t have to do a thing — I just let it dry and it’s perfect.

Also, you really don’t realize how bad your hair looked until you get it done and it looks normal again! I look like a hobo in that top pic!

And I joined a gym! Finally. I joined Equinox, one of the nicer gym chains in New York, because I will only work out if I have somewhere fancy and nice where I enjoy going. And Equinox has tons of cool classes and Kiehl’s products in the bathrooms and it is the cleanest gym I’ve ever seen. (PS — are you interested in joining an Equinox? Give them my name, Kate McCulley, and you can get a free weeklong trial.)

Kate with Lebkuchen

Challenges

The biggest challenge was one that I’ve mentioned previously: I fell and hit my head in Germany and ended up with a concussion. It was the stupidest thing ever (I wanted to make a funny video for Snapchat, fell backwards, and greatly missed my target when I hit my head on the corner of the bed frame).

I felt okay at the time, but I suddenly started feeling nauseated and dizzy with a headache about 20 hours later. I then started wondering whether I should see a doctor and get a CT scan.

I want to reiterate to you all: please see a doctor if you have a head injury. You can die from a seemingly innocuous head injury — sadly, Natasha Richardson died after hitting her head while skiing, and thinking of her is what got me to go to the hospital.

I went to the ER in Munich and it was a relatively quick and easy experience, though it cost me 300 EUR ($316) for not being an EU resident and having EU health insurance. That money will be refunded to me through my World Nomads travel insurance — yet another reason why to use travel insurance! The good news is that there were no abnormalities on my scan, though I definitely had a concussion.

The doctors cleared me to fly home the next day, but that flight ranks among the worst I’ve ever taken. There’s nothing like having a pounding headache and being unable to focus on your Kindle or the screen in front of you and even though you turned up your headphones, your plane is full of American college students returning from a semester abroad and discussing everything they did in Great. Loud. Slow. Detail. (Yes, I realize this is karma for how annoying I was during my own semester abroad.)

Also, someone burst into my hotel room in Nuremberg. The front desk gave a man a key to my room by mistake. It was scary to have a stranger burst in after midnight when you’re hanging out in your underwear. Lesson learn — always double-lock your door or use a doorstop, even in the hotels in the developed world that seem nice.

Parmigiano Reggiano at Eataly

Most Popular Post

My Worst Travel Moments of 2016 — everyone always loves this annual post!

Other Posts

My Best Travel Moments of 2016 — all my favorite memories.

My Favorite New Destinations of 2016 — did your favorites make the cut?

My Favorite Reads of 2016 — the top 12 books from a year of hardcore reading.

Christmas in Bavaria in 25 Photos — an overview of my Christmas market trip before I write a big guide later this year.

Win a Trip to Chile (including Easter Island!) — one of the better contests I’ve featured lately. Contest now closed.

Nuremberg at night

Most Popular Instagram Photo

Far and away, this photo of Nuremberg at night was my most popular shot. But the professional shot I edited in Lightroom afterward came out even better.

For real-time coverage of my travels, follow me at @adventurouskate on Instagram and Snapchat. I’m getting close to 100k on Instagram!

At the Wallace

What I Read This Month

I took a break from reading to recover from my concussion this month, so I didn’t read as much as usual.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith — I named this book one of my favorite reads of 2016 in my earlier post. Two girls grow up in a rough neighborhood in northwest London. Both are poor. Both are biracial. Both love and live to dance — but only one of them has the talent. The book follows their intersecting lives and the twists and turns of their friendship over decades. If you enjoyed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, you need to read this book next.

The book asks a lot of questions at the end. Just how much are we a product of our upbringing? What do we owe to the people who raised us? If we hide a key aspect of our personality, is it going to come out at some point? I loved this book and can’t wait to dive into Zadie Smith’s other works.

I also tried to read Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild, but honestly, I couldn’t get past 25%. The book was a lot harder to get into than I expected, and it was so frustrating to see Louisianans vote against their own interests again and again. People in coastal communities destroyed by environmental disasters caused by lack of environmental regulation, where everyone was getting cancer and you could no longer eat the fish because they would kill you, would say, “No, the real problem is environmental regulation.”

I get that it’s an important book; perhaps I’ll finish it when I cool down a bit.

I also read two self-help books this month.

What I Listened To This Month

CHANCE THE MOTHERFUCKING RAPPER! I’ve been hearing great things about Chance the Rapper’s new album Coloring Book for months, but it took me this long to actually give it a listen. And I fell in love with it immediately.

This isn’t an ordinary hip-hop album. It’s a gospel hip-hop album — far less audacious than Kanye West’s attempt with The Life of Pablo and with far better, down-to-Earth results. This album is the warmest, happiest, most inspirational hip-hop album I’ve heard in quite some time. And I think it might be a good “gateway album” for people who claim to hate rap.

I adore this album. It’s my favorite album of the year. And the song above, “Finish Line/Drown,” is the perfect introduction.

New York View from the Gansevoort

Coming Up in January 2017

I’ve got a grand total of zero travel plans for this month, and I’m happy about it. Even as dark and dreary as January is, I don’t mind staying put in New York. September through December were very busy travel months for me (especially when you include three home visits) and January will be a good time to catch my breath and get work done.

I will be speaking at the New York Times Travel Show on Friday, January 27, at 10:15 AM. The info is here. This is a Friday morning, and as such it’s more a talk for the travel industry, but if you happen to not be working and want to come by, I’d love to see you. I’ll be floating around the travel show on the other days as well. You can get a $5 discount off industry tickets and $3 discount off consumer tickets with the code SPEAK007.

What are your plans for January? Share away!

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