Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Layover: Vienna

The transition from jetset to jetlag was immediate but I managed to power through so I could explore a city featured in one of my all time favorite movies, Before Sunrise. I opted out of reliving this film, following the couples' path to the record store, along the romantic winding streets, as I for one, was a solo traveler and I already had lived out this movie fantasy of poor timing, connecting with a total stranger, two Septembers ago on a train back from Montauk. 

So for the what could have been, it was time to ignore those what ifs and open my eyes to what was in front of me, to see what lies within the historic walls of Vienna. It's a twenty minute drive into the city and for 8 euros, I hopped on a bus right outside baggage claim. Be sure to pick up a brochure, labeled "Vienna in 3 days." Not only does it provide you with a map of the city but it highlights the main attractions for someone on a tight schedule, like me.

My first stop, Cafe Hawelka, to warm up and dry off from the rain. And to ask for directions to the majestic Hofburg Palace, amongst the artists, writers and creative types in this authentic cafe, a scene right out of the 1930's. They could have very well been tourists like me but today, they weren't.

Up next, get my culture on and take in the modern art at the Albertina Museum, featuring the exhibit of Catalan artist Joan Miro. It was quite the confidence boost for this overtired traveler as it was a easy fix to feel young and refreshed amidst the senior citizen groups as I managed to use my much expired college ID to join their tour. Thank you, Vienna. 

And thanks to my family friend Jacob and his 36 hours in Vienna list, I made sure to cap off my afternoon with what he quotes as  the "best schnitzel" at Figlmuller. He warned me that it might take up too much of my time. At first, I didn't understand that but once the plate of breaded chicken cutlet arrived to the table, I thought the waiter must have mistaken my table of one for a table of three. A good third of the schnitzel, ok fine, half of it, was consumed by me and a doggy bag for the other half was taken with me in hopes of a better in-flight meal to Bangkok.

As I walked back through the streets of Vienna, I opted to give the leftovers to two homeless men as this layover had already filled me up in more ways than one piece of schnitzel. 

Stay bitten ;)





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Travel Tip Tuesday: Carry On

At this stage in the game, I've become a bit of a pro at packing. I boast that I carry-on only and can fit the necessities (and then some) in one little suitcase. My friends raise an eyebrow, call me low maintenance but I've come to understand what I truly need. Of all the things I take with me (and some of the things that I pick up along the way), I've learned overtime not to forget to bring a positive attitude. There is so much that is out of my control - flight delays and cancellations, unpredictable weather, the annoying guy who insists on sharing my arm rest, oh, the list goes on. But it's the response to it all that matters.

The month of November was a good one as I revisited a few old favorite destinations from California to Israel and made my way to new ones, Austria and Thailand. While the blog collected dust, I absorbed as much as I could each and every day. On a Wednesday in Chiang Mai, my friend Ashley told Jaclyn and myself of a quote that she swears by, one adopted from her dear family friend.

Every day is a good day. Some are just better than others.

Whether abroad or in my hometown, life has taken me in many directions. One moment, I feel like I'm on top of an elephant and the next, I'm handed elephant poop. The best thing I (and we) can do, wherever I (and we) may go, is to embrace it wholeheartedly, with a big 'ol smile. 

Stay bitten ;)
photos courtesy of Patara Elephant Farm


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reconnect

Facebook is and has always been a time suck. These days, my newsfeed is filled with baby announcements, engagements, political comments and the occasional adorable puppy. What a day it was when those Burning Man photos switched things up.

As much as I'd like to disconnect myself from the time lost on the social network, I find that for me, it best serves its purpose as a means to reconnect with old friends. It's odd, I see photos of friends from all paths of life, from elementary school to college to my first job out of college and so on. All the while, I feel in tune to what is going on in the lives of others - this one got married, this one ran a marathon, traveled to Greece, moved cross country, had twins, and so on...

And with a thumbs up, a like, it becomes clear that beyond that point, I haven't actually spoken to this friend in a week, a few months, a year. I start to do math and discover it's been longer than either of us ever anticipated. With that, I feel disconnected in a platform meant to connect people.

While I was in San Francisco, I decided that even though it had been ages, pardon my French, f*ck it, I was going to reach out instead of liking another photo from afar. So I put my qualms aside, the worst they say is they're busy or the classic, don't respond until after the fact. I'm very glad that I didn't let my hesitation get the best of me as I ended up catching up with old friends all throughout the weekend, from a picnic in Golden Gate Park to locally inspired cocktails at Trick Dog in the Mission. It's comforting to know that even when our lives go separate ways our paths can cross again and at these intersections, I'm happy to hear and see that they're doing well. I left San Francisco, a little fuller, from my gluttonous food intake but more so, from the reminder that it's never too late to reconnect.

Stay bitten ;)




Monday, October 27, 2014

Left My Heart (again)

I left my heart in San Francisco. Again. 
It happens every time.

There's something about this city that gets me with every visit. Maybe it's that within my first day I reached 3x my regular steps on my fitbit. I think (and joke) that there's a balance of fitness and lifestyle as every weekend in San Fran is a triathlon of some sort. This was confirmed as I made my way on a morning run towards the Golden Gate Bridge, a sight that floods my heart as Karl the Fog opened his arms up again. He has a way of wrapping himself around me, hugging me and making me feel like the Bay Area is a place that maybe one day I'll call home. For now, I'll play tourist and eat my way through this tech-savvy, environmentally conscious, culinary destination.

I was spoiled this trip. So much so that I contemplated deliberately missing my flight for the first time ever. Can you blame me? I was staying with my friend Dave from college and his wife, Steph, who is a talented food blogger. I woke up to enjoy a barefoot brunch on their patio: 75C eggs made with a sous-vide machine, Acme smoked fish, brown butter hollandaise, heirloom cherry tomatoes on fresh focaccia. Spoiled.

And that's just how I started my day. The rest of my culinary conquests made it hard to leave and even harder to button up my pants.

My fill on San Francisco:
Park Tavern for dinner just outside Washington Square Park
Lai Hong Lounge for Dim Sumdays
Tartine for well, everything
The Ferry Building for Hog Island Oysters
Yummy Yummy for family style Vietnamese
Trick Dog for drinks and snacks
La Taqueria for the best burrito

Until next time:
State Bird Provisions
Souvla
Flour + Water

Stay bitten ;)



Friday, October 24, 2014

The Hangover / The Layover

I had one of the above. Vegas is synonymous with The Hangover but for us the only headache we had was to figure out how to spend the free time before our flights back home. The morning following our incredible hike of The Narrows, we headed west of Springdale, drove through a landscape that reminded me of an early episode of Breaking Bad. 

Like most people who visit Sin City, Eric and Liz immediately took to the tables. I joined them for a hot minute, won $36 and walked away. You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them...

Or in my case, I wasn't much of a gambler and after a 13 mile hike, all I really wanted to do was relax poolside, put my feet up before my redeye flight. I called a couple hotels only to receive the quick reply of "hotel guests only." I blame (and thank) my grandmother, the former Vogue model, for instilling this stubbornness in me. She taught me that behind every no is a yes, you just have to ask the right person. I'm sure she batted her lashes and flirted just a little bit. Either way, that tenacity and the distance a smile will go, was passed on to me and come hell or high water, I was finding a lounge chair!

I contemplated booking a hotel room for the day but came across this Travel + Leisure feature on the "Best Pools in Las Vegas." I left the tables in The Venetian and headed next door to The Palazzo as I read that I could crash the day party at Azure for a small fee. After chatting up concierge, I was headed in the right direction to make use of one of their pools. 

Just my luck, free of charge.
Stay bitten ;)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

On the bottom-up route, there's a fork in the road forcing the decision to go left or right. There's no scarecrow to give advice so we opted for the longer option and went left. 

Further up the river, we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. It became a turning point for most. People saw the big boulder (not the one pictured below) and let their fear (or sensibility) take over and turned around, heading back to where they started from. We witnessed a lot of that and were forewarned that the water would be up to our chin if we tried to swim around it or climb over it.

Being waist deep in water (and in rental gear) we chose to challenge ourselves as I'm a firm believer to do something that challenges you daily, from scaling a boulder into high water to taking on a new project at work. Every now and then it's good to step out of your comfort zone. Plus, we didn't have to worry about taking the wet clothes home with us.

It is at this point we made new friends, a couple taking a break from their collegiate studies. They were our guinea pigs as we watched them attempt to navigate up and around. And then it was our turn. Together, we hoisted each other up, provided support, verbal guidance and reassurance that what's on the other side would be worth the risk. Isn't it always?

Stay bitten ;)



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Look Up

Another luxury condo, a skyscraper trumping the height of a neighboring building. Scaffolding left and right, signs of gentrification accompanied by sirens blaring and taxis honking. On some days the sounds of the city overwhelm me. The noises cloud my thoughts and make me crave for a change of scenery.

Last year, I made a resolution to see more of my backyard. No, I don't have coveted outdoor space in New York City. I began to realize that there's much of the United States I haven't seen and made a pact to make a conscious effort to explore America, the beautiful, one state at a time.

So off to Nevada, I went. I arrived in Sin City with a hint of guilt as it was the holiest day of the year and I probably should have been in temple. I reassured myself that I would feel more in tune with my thoughts when I'm isolated in nature than I would people watching in synagogue. I could reflect without distractions and really take the time to reevaluate the past year and my goals for the future. For me, this hike proved to fulfill that and much more.

There are miles on the Virgin River where it was just us. Our cellphones were in airplane mode and I could only connect with nature and the people on the trail. I had to pay constant attention to the ground below me as every step is from one slippery rock to another, hoping not to lose footing. But every now and then, I would stop, take in my surroundings, the rock formations, the patterns, the range of oranges, reds, the fifty shades of gray. In awe of this place, what a beauty it is to just look up.

Stay bitten ;)



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Travel Tip Tuesday: Passbook

Just the other week, between domestic West Coast flights, my friend Liz looked at me with much confusion and asked why I didn't use passbook.

Passbook? When I couldn't find the Virgin America app in the app store, I resorted to printing out my boarding pass. Archaic and wasteful, I know. Well, thanks to Liz, I'm kicking off tips for Tuesdays and this one is my recent introduction to Passbook.

Passbook keeps your boarding passes, movie, concert tickets, etc. all in one place and shows them in your lock screen when you need them. After I received an email to check in, I was able to add it to my Passbook and check in leisurely. 

Stay bitten ;)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Started from the Bottom

That Saturday morning I woke up with the excitement that paralleled a child on Christmas morning or the first day of summer camp. We're hiking The Narrows today! I sprung out of bed, put on Lauryn Hill's Zion for a good laugh and tried to contain my enthusiasm.

My college roommate Sarah, one whose travels I had followed from New Zealand to Peru, had raved about this hike, claiming it was one of the coolest things she has ever done. And one she would do again and again. With all that hype, I couldn't wait to experience it for myself. It was an easy sell to Liz and Eric, two friends of mine who are now living on the West Coast, to come join me on this adventure. 

We headed over to fill up on breakfast at the Spotted Dog as we had a full day ahead of us. Next door, we rented our hiking gear and watched an informational video on what to do in the event of a flash flood. Not to be taken lightly, noted.

And just across the street, we took the shuttle over to the Temple of Sinawava, the starting point of "the trail" of the Narrows. While there is no set trail as we found ourselves wading through the Virgin River, there are two main routes to take.

Top Down: requires a permit and since I'm not one to plan too far in advance, this was not in our cards.
Bottom Up: Like Drake, start from the bottom and make your way upstream and back. Ideal for a day hike although there are 12 campgrounds on the park to use.

Stay bitten ;)



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From A to Zion

Getting from point A to Z.

Option 1:
Fly into Las Vegas. Rent a Car. It's a 2.5-3 hour drive to Springdale, Utah. 
(keep in mind the change in time zone from Nevada to Utah)

Option 2:
Fly into St. George, Utah. One hour drive from the airport to Springdale.
(much closer to Zion but not a main airport hub, flights are a bit pricier)

Option 3:
Make a road trip out of it. It's a 6+ hour drive from Los Angeles.

Stay:
Flanigan's Inn.
A convenient, clean and comfortable stay. Of all the places I researched, this was one of the best options in town. Plus, according to google maps, it was as good as it gets to the trail entrance.

Alternate option:
Cliffrose Lodge & Garden

Rent:
Zion Adventure Company (located next door to Flanigan's Inn). Call ahead to give your measurements to reserve waterproof pants (highly recommended as people who did The Narrows in shorts were cold and wet from the 50 degree water). The morning of the hike you can pick up the gear for roughly $40. In addition to the pants, this will include the footwear package (with neoprene socks, walking stick and canyoneer shoes) and will save room in your suitcase.

To Zion:
Across the street from Flanigan's Inn is the shuttle bus stop that takes you to the Zion National Park Visitor Center where you will purchase your entrance fee into the park. From there, you will take an additional free shuttle for 45 minutes to the start of The Narrows trail.

A well-earned post-trek meal:
The Spotted Dog Cafe.
Bit & Spur, a local Southwestern favorite.

Stay bitten ;)