Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Guy Who Turned Lemons into Lemonade

As a writer (yes, I can confidently say that, even without any formal training, because it is Alex that reaffirmed that I am this and much more), I find myself not at a loss for words over the recent news of his passing but more so flooded with too many. I can recall so many memories, it's as if they're all surfacing at once and I'm just trying to stay afloat, coming up for air as the salty waves of the Caribbean crash over me.

And that's the tough part. My brain is overwhelmed with so many finite memories that collectively, these moments feel infinite. It's been a little over a week and I'm still not ready to say goodbye to him. I don't think I'll ever be and I'm choosing to move on with my life but take him everywhere I go. I hate having to say Alex was instead of Alex is. To me, he still is. He will always be - my daily reminder to live life fully. To not hold back on saying "I love you" to the important people in my life. To say YES more than no. To chase sunsets. To travel more. Yes, more. And to smile through it all. 

When I first met Alex it was a bit of a blur. Isn't that what your early twenties are? He was a constant fixture, popping up just about everywhere from a friend's overcrowded apartment party, to a JBFCS Friends volunteer event, to Passion Pit on Governor's Island. The music-loving, happy-go-lucky guy did not miss a beat. But it wasn't until January of 2013, that I really fell for Alex Niles. The guy rivals George Clooney in the charm category. Heck, while Alex was asked to speak to fellow cancer patients, survivors and the incredible staff at the NYU Langone Medical Center, the doctor introduced him as "the hunk." The nickname stuck but I made sure to give him a hard time laughing about the Alex Niles Effect, granting him #hunk and #superhunk with every photo posted.

But it wasn't his boyish good looks, it was the way he made me (well, all of us) feel when I (we) were with him. We were all cramped on a catamaran sailing the British Virgin Islands on the infamous Yacht Week. Long after the trip had ended, after we jumped ship into 2013, our friendship really took flight. Cue Whitney Houston, because bud, I will always love you - for lunches at Parm, sweaty dance parties, green juices and afternoons of futbol, walks on the Long Beach boardwalk chasing sunsets, the career, relationship, you name it, advice, these memories all add up to something unquantifiable.

Alex became the kind of friend to me that I'll forever hold on to. His ability to continuously re-instill confidence in myself and remind me of my value is an invaluable gift from him that I cherish. But beyond that, whenever we hung out, I always came home feeling like a better version of myself. Was it that he was able to bring out the best in me by making me realize all I had to offer or was it just the laughter that ensued within minutes of hanging out? Either way it was no coincidence that his name rhymed with smiles.

There's a framed print that hangs opposite my shower. Every morning, as I rub my groggy eyes, I am given this reminder. This your life. Do what you you love, and do it often. If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, quit. Life is short, live your dream, share your passion. While this may be the words to the Holstee Manifesto, I'm very much convinced this is the "Alex Niles Manifesto" and one I've adopted and adhered by. 

His reach was wide, his smile even more so. Thank you for inspiring me, among many others, always. For valuing friendship, family and health above all. For creating Curewear to help not only yourself, but others in need. For redefining the modern day hero for us all.

Alex, we'll see you on Necker Island. Or somewhere beyond the sea.
Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Little Rock

In February, I made my way to Little Rock, Arkansas, the hometown of our former President and quite possibly, as of this week our future President.

The weather got in the way of exploring what Little Rock has to offer. Instead, we built tents indoors, finger painted and played with firetrucks, dump trucks, and all sorts of other vehicles that two boys under four years old are fascinated with.

Next time I head to Little Rock, I expect a lot more of the aforementioned activities, regardless of the weather. But I also plan on checking out the places that made this Southern city home for the Clintons. Like the Clintons, I hope my sister and co. make their way back north because this long distance is not only making the heart grow fonder but it's giving me a dose of wanderlust mixed with heartache.

Stay bitten ;)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Guestblogger: Jennifer's First #traverbal

This week the FOMO bells screamed loud. My favorite spandex-star-suit-wearing-jam-box-playing November Project guy was leaving The Philadelphia Art Museum steps for our regularly scheduled workout to #traverbal to meet his friend in NYC. Hearing this I had to arrange for him to meet and then kidnap my college roommate and take her to her first NP workout. 

Lost in translation? The November Project is a free fitness movement that started in Boston as a way for two buddies to encourage one another in fitness. By way of positive energy and friendly recruiting they created, in my humble opinion, a movement that is changing the pulse of this country. Scratch that. The world. Nope, the universe. The November Project currently has tribes in 19 cities and continues to grow.

Seeking out new adventures is recommended right behind Vitamin D. Trust me, I'm a nurse. Last summer I tried something new and it changed my life. Eight months after my first workout I have about a 100 new friends and have been bitten by the infectious energy and spirit that November Project embodies. Oh, and I shaved 20 seconds off my mile and my a*s is a little tighter. Win win. 

There are many, I repeat many November Project traditions, expressions, hashtags. Look up #justshowup to find out. Drop a #verbal and commit to a workout. Nervous the temps aren't ideal for you? Remember Boston's winter? We are #weatherproof. Out of town for work? #traverbal and check out a new tribe in a new city. Seriously, check us out or on the book, the gram, Twitter. We are probably even on OpenTable... reservations always available.  

Always inspired by Miss Travelbugbites, I took to the calls of spontaneity and adventure and said FOMO no mo'. I took my first #traverbal (a traveling verbal) two hours north to NYC. 

Tuesday 4:30PM:
"Kanf, I'm coming!"
"What?! For real?! This means I really have to go tomorrow?!"
"Oh hell yes!" 

Wednesday 5:30AM:
Round the bend comes the star-suit-jam-box-pumpin gentleman with his cat-short wearing friend and we make the 6 mile run from the LES to The Gracie Mansion. Before the sun rose to say hello I quickly tip toed my way up town with old friends and new and music in my ears and nothing but a shit grin on my face. 

I'm sure each November Project tribe has their own flare, closeness, and weirdness. While partial to my Philly tribe I was elated to be welcomed with warm open arms and over the top personalities at The Gracie Mansion. We sprinted in loops around Gracie Mansion stopping to do various exercises. The energy was high. The workout was tough. The cameras were flashing. All standard fare.

Wrapping up the workout I learned my little bugbites friend had never been to The Gracie Mansion. We had navigated new New York territory with several dozen strangers and I had shared with her an experience that is so dear to me. I also made sure to introduce her to the NY tribe leaders so they remembered her cute little face when she indefinitely drops her own #verbal soon.

#justshowup in life, in adventure, in spontaneity, in friendship, and definitely at a November Project near you. Until then, stay bitten ;)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Fatherland, part two

Back in November (yes, somehow it's now March), I had the privilege of returning to the Motherland, or in my case, the Fatherland. My father, Abba as he most often referred to, hails from the great state of Israel. While he visits his family a couple of times a year, my trips back are, unfortunately, much less frequent. 

I'll take full ownership of that as I'm selfishly trying to make my way to new destinations, seeing, experiencing as much of the world while my responsibilities are still limited to myself. On the way back from a vacation in Thailand, my Jewish guilt kicked in and I made a pitstop in Tel Aviv, primarily to see my grandmother.

Conveniently, Abba was staying in an apartment in Herzliya, so l cramped his style and made room for myself in the extra bedroom, you know the bomb shelter room that's standard in Israeli homes. It's not often that I get to have dinner with my father, let alone travel with him so to have him as my travel companion, tour guide, translator, I was a certified daddy's girl. 

Herzilya, while lacking the excitement of its cooler neighbor, Tel Aviv, still drew me in. Maybe it was the next-door, newly opened modern Ritz Carlton, clad with Missoni pillows and the quietest lobby, I forgot I was in Israel. Most likely, it was the running path around the marina, flanking the beach highlighting that fitness a part of everyday life there. People, ranging from my age to that of my father's, were taking to the tayelet (a promenade), from sunrise to sunset.

Israel warrants more than one post, even if I was only there for three days and the extent of my sight seeing was hopping from one family brunch to another family dinner. That's the thing about Israel. It is so deeply rooted in family. Everything else is just noise, or less of a priority. Family and love first, falafel, hummus, bread with za'atar next, followed by the beach.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: The Appy Traveler

When I travel, I try to disconnect, take some time away from that attached iPhone of mine. To "be in the moment" as they say but not do. It's a struggle at the very best unless you're in a remote safari camp in Tanzania where the only connection is with nature, the animals and the people around you. These days I find that there are ways my phone can better my time off, even when it's still on. Because as much as the view from the window seat can set your imagination in flight, it's stressful just getting there. Here are a few apps that can make an appy traveler a happier traveler.

Getting Around:
When I was in Newnan, Georgia and I needed to head to an even smaller Southern town, I couldn't click my heels twice because I wasn't in Kansas. This is when Uber can be convenient when the options aren't a plenty. But for the girl who prefers the nerds over the bully, there's other apps to get me where I want to be.

LyftA cheaper, friendlier alternative to Uber and the easiest way to get around San Francisco. It recently cost me $30 to get from LaGuardia to Tribeca using Lyft.

BandwagonThis ride-sharing app that is an environmentally sound option for New Yorkers.

GettUnlike Uber, Gett has no surge pricing. Available in NY, London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, , Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Best part for New Yorkers, it's $10 anywhere in central Manhattan, no meter, no worries.

ViaA ridesharing app that's just $5 to get around uptown and midtown Manhattan.
(Use the code lauren3e4 and you'll get a free $10 credit)

Calling it a night:
AirbnbWant to stay in an apartment or planning an extended stay? This is a great option to get a true feel of living like the locals do. That is, if you don't have a luxury hotel in mind.

The Currency Converter:
OandaI've been using this one for ages so there might be a better version out there but it has not failed me. Even in airplane mode, I can adjust the price in USD to whatever the currency of that country is and get a rough estimate of what these elephant clad pants would cost back at home. It's a great way to decipher whether I'm getting ripped off or not... and keeps me in line with my spending abroad.

Talk to me:
DuolingoIt's a free (and fun) way to learn a new language in a gaming format.

TinderWhen in Rome? I kid, I kid. But people are using Tinder as a way to meet people, be it for a relationship or a guided tour from an insider. Swipe right or put the phone away and facetime in real time.

Got any apps that save you time or eliminate stress why traveling? Leave a comment and share the love. Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Serenbe

Sometimes your work will take you to expected places, metropolitan cities from Dubai to London to San Francisco. And then there's the unexpected. It will bring you somewhere you've never been, introduce you to new people and open your eyes to a landscape vastly different from your everyday terrain. For me, it's the skyscrapers, taxi cabs and that wintery slush.

Just last week, I had the privilege of staying in a town just 45 minutes south of Atlanta for a photo shoot for Zola registry with the talented women behind Once Wed. To most Southerners, Serenbe is a popular wedding venue, an idyllic place for a corporate retreat or an easy weekend getaway to unwind. Given the pouring rain, I will be sure to return to Serenbe as not only was I taken by the kindness and hospitality of the people but that the charm of the place was not washed away during the storm. 

The talk is not slow but not cheap. Y'all, please and thank you are sprinkled in every other sentence. The accents are thick as gravy and I found myself adopting it as if it were another helping of mashed potatoes. The pulled pork sandwich from Blue Eyed Daisy warrants a second serving. As does the waffle dessert from the Hil (one of the two restaurants in town). Making space for dessert is also a necessity as it's a true farm to table experience. Horses, goats and friends wander the grounds, an expansive property at The Inn at Serenbe.

Even though we were having a photo shoot at a private home, just outside the front door, time seemed to go by just a little bit slower. And I began to question whether every country song I listen to is a true love letter to life in the south.

Stay bitten y'all ;)
photos courtesy of The Inn at Serenbe

Vermont for Valentine's

Oops, it's March and I somehow seemed to skip right over February. I joked that this previous month was a Tour d'America as every weekend was filled visiting various destinations: Miami, Vermont, Little Rock, and Atlanta. And with each place, I managed to fall in love all over again.

This past weekend, the NYTimes travel section had a feature on skiing on the East Coast, with claims that it is currently the best place to ski right now in the country given the winter we've had this year. People are taking to the slopes and flocking to New England. 

I discovered there's more to love than fresh powder in Vermont. We arrived in Burlington via JetBlue (the quick flight outweighed the decision to forgo the usual seven hour drive in the dark after work). We made a pit stop to visit one of my favorite Zola registry vendors, Vermont Farm Table. To read more about our behind-the-scenes tour of their wood shop, click here.

With our beautiful hand-crafted muddlers in hand, we made our way to our winter weekend in Sugarbush. As soon as we got to the ski house, Dan and Brady told us to drop our bags as we had to be at the lodge for a surprise. There at the base of the mountain, we greeted Mary and Nick, one of the best couples I know, with champagne (and beer). On their last run, Nick made it an uphill one for Mary and proposed right there on the slopes.

The recently engaged joined an overly giddy group of apres skiers to kickoff one truly memorable weekend (no matter how many shotskis were taken). With our onesies on, we celebrated #whenttwobecomesonesie.

Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: Partner Up

When I left New York, it was 12 degrees. A few hours later, I arrived in Miami and it was just shy of 73 degrees. I'm not good with math but boy, did I feel that difference. So when my return flight home got canceled due to the impending winter storm, it was hard not to justify camping out by the pool for an extended period of time.

But life beckons. And every vacation comes to an end, even the long weekend getaways. My travel tip for you is a lesson learned from yesterday morning's canceled flight. 

I played a game of musical flights trying my best to get on the earliest (and most promising) one out. After an extensive time on hold, all the while direct message tweeting (the fastest way to get a response) with Virgin America's customer support team, I realized that a refund and an inexpensive flight on another airline like Frontier or Southwest would not be the cheapest, easiest fix. A flight out the following day with them was also not a guarantee that I would make it back to the office in time.

My best bet was to partner up with an airline that has flights every other hour. Before you fly, know who your airline's friends are because as true to real life, friends will help you get to where you want to go. With Virgin having only flight a day out of FLL, I was able to transfer over to JetBlue, free of charge and secure a spot on their earliest flight out. Once I got to the gate, I charmed the flight attendant into a better seat. Be kind to the airline staff, they are customer service without the buffer of a phone and have a constant cast of characters to deal with. A smile and a genuine thank you really goes the distance.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Princess and the P

For every beach we pulled up to, it wasn't clear as to where exactly we were. Our "guide" Hu would mumble the name of a place and shake it off with laughter. When we approached the next beach, I was pretty sure that we were at Railay Beach, as the sight of Rayavadee's restaurant just perched a few feet above the sand, looked just like the photographs.

Months before the trip, I had seen images of this restaurant nestled in a cave in just about every travel publication. The critics raved, this luxury resort can only be reached by boat and is dubbed one of the top 20 places to stay in Asia. But this couldn't be it... the beach was the equivalent of Times Square. There is no way that this was #5 of the "20 Amazing Hotels You Need to Visit Before You Die." Low and behold, Ashley saw a sign and confirmed that this was in fact the much lauded exclusive hotel. To be fair, I'm sure the overly crowded beach is the only setback.

But what were they all here for? We disembarked from the longboat and took a stroll down the beach, naturally to follow the crowd. To our left, rock climbers scaled limestone cliffs. Straight ahead, at the end of Railay Beach, another cave. Within the cave, the sign read:

It is believed among the villagers here that the spirit of Phranang Princess Goddess resides in this cave. Fisherman, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. When their wishes fulfilled, votive offering would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams. However, this has nothing to do with the Thai people's religions, neither Buddhism nor Islam, that the belief of the lingam and holy womb shall create fertility and prosperity to the whole earth and  mankind.

Upon entry, I thought to myself "ooh daily offerings, kind of like the ones I saw in Bali." And then moments later, I realized that I was just a little off. These fisherman were trying to ward off a curse on this lonely princess with phallic objects. I turned around to Jaclyn and Ashley and reverted to a junior high schooler. A cave full of them?! There must be over 100, all different shapes and sizes. 

No wonder Hu was laughing! Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: Trust Strangers

When we were young, we were told not to talk to strangers. If I listened to that rule, I don't think I would have gotten very far. Cruise around Thailand on the cheap? That would certainly be out of the question if I kept my mouth shut.

More often that not, I'm chatting up a stranger. Shortly thereafter, they've become a new friend. On our first night in Krabi, we ventured to the lobby of the Sofitel for a welcoming happy hour. It is there that I realized I wasn't the only chatty one of my friends. 

We met a sweet Australian woman who gave us the rundown of where to go. She advised us to leave the hotel property in the morning in search for Hu. He should be there across the street, on the side of the road either in a tuk tuk or a longboat. Can't miss Hu. Just ask the locals for him.

So the following morning, we took to her advice and within minutes of asking who's Hu, found ourselves in the company of one smiley, laid back guy. Sporting a Bob Marley shirt and a longboat adorned with Rastafarian colors, we knew everything was going to be alright. He was missing an ear, a teeth or two, but had a sweet demeanor that allowed us to put our trust in a stranger. 

On one rickety longboat, we would ask him what island we would head to next and he would just laugh it off. Hu didn't speak much English and to be fair, I knew even less Thai. Apparently Pad See Ew and Khao Soy won't get you to Ko Phi Phi. But a smile, that will take you pretty far in the Land of Smiles.

Stay bitten ;)