Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:06:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Koh Tao Dive Site Spotlight: Sail Rock http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/21/koh-tao-dive-site-spotlight-sail-rock/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/21/koh-tao-dive-site-spotlight-sail-rock/#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:05:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33065

I had high ambitions of getting my dive on on a regular basis throughout my three months back in Thailand. Unfortunately, bad conditions and a very low low season resulted in less boats going out, and lots of distractions meant I wasn’t always on them when they did. But when I saw my friends at Roctopus were doing a special locals’ edition of their crazy popular Sail Rock Sunday trips, I cleared my calendar immediately. A day out to the premier dive site in the Gulf of Thailand with my favorite dive school and a bunch of my BFF divemaster buddies on board? Um yes, I think I can make some space in my busy schedule of doing far less awesome things for that one.

And so we set off at an hour that I usually only see at the other end of a long night out, to make the hundred minute journey to a certain special pinnacle in the middle of the ocean.

Sail Rock Dive Trip

Sail Rock Dive Trip

Sail Rock

On a bad day, Sail Rock can be grueling. But on a beautiful day like the one we lucked into, the long ride to this deep ocean dive site has a killer payoff. And this was my favorite kind of diving, a kind I’m lucky to do often — diving with instructors and divemasters on their days off.

Sail Rock

Sail Rock Dive Site

Sail Rock Dive Site

I buddied up with Anna, who patiently explored while I snapped away. I hate feeling rushed when I’m behind the lens, and reveled in taking my time to let my fishy friends get comfortable before I came at them with my camera.

Sail Rock Sundays

Diving Sail Rock

Diving Sail Rock

Such life! Such color! It’s no mystery why Sail Rock is on the scuba bucket list of so many divers who make their way to Thailand. The coral is abundant, the tropical fish are varied, the topography inspired. This is why people learn to dive.

Diving Sail Rock

Sail Rock Sundays

Diving Sail Rock

Christmas Tree Work, Sail Rock

While the macro stuff is fun (and easier) to photograph, it’s the big schools that Sail Rock is really known for. There is something almost spiritual about the moment you kick out into an endless school of barracuda, and get swept away for a moment in the bigness of it all. There’s really nothing quite like it.

Diving Sail Rock

Barracuda, Sail Rock

Barracuda, Sail Rock

Sail Rock Sundays

Even in the low season, this is a popular dive site you’ll rarely have to yourself. But it’s also vast, and there’s always a little moment of solitude you can find somewhere.

Diving Sail Rock

Diving Sail Rock

Diving Sail Rock

While I don’t get out there often, I have posted about Sail Rock twice before, and — wow! — it is crazy to see how my underwater photography and my editing skills have improved since I first picked up an underwater housing. Granted, conditions like visibility and brightness play a huge roll, and I really lucked out here with a light-filled day, but it is fun to see how far I’ve progressed over the years.

And I can’t wait to see where I go.

Diving Sail Rock

Sail Rock Sundays

Sail Rock, Gulf of Thailand

Sail Rock Dive Site

Sail Rock Dive Site

Two long dives later, we surfaced with a cheer. Time for a delicious Thai curry — and a drink! While the ride out on Sail Rock Sundays is usually somewhat sleepy (I mean like literally, I napped) the ride back to Koh Tao is basically a floating warm up party for Sunday Fundays on the beach upon return. It doesn’t hurt that Roctopus has somewhat of a reputation for hiring tanned and toned instructors that are not hard to look at.

Some might find this practice vaguely questionable, but guys…. I’M NOT OFFENDED.

Roctopus Dive Koh Tao

Roctopus Dive Koh Tao

Sail Rock Sundays

Roctopus Dive Koh Tao

Sail Rock Dive Trip

Yes, I love me some Roctopus, and I’m not shy about sending everyone who writes me asking for Thailand dive shop recommendations their way. I was on Koh Tao when these guys were hanging their first shop shingle, and now they’re one of the top shops on the island and just had a glowing write up in the latest edition of Lonely Planet Thailand. I couldn’t be happier for them — and they truly do deserve every accolade.

And you certainly don’t have to be a divemaster or a local to enjoy Sail Rock Sunday. For 2,600 baht (about $80) you get two guided dives, all equipment, two meals… and a whole crew to head to Maya Bar for a drink with afterwards.

Roctopus Sail Rock Sundays

Roctopus Sail Rock Sundays

Sail Rock Dive Trip

Roctopus Dive Koh Tao

Happy Sail Rock Sunday!

. . . . . . . .

Many thanks to my longtime friends at Roctopus for hosting me. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. Tell them I sent ya and give them a big hug from me if you go!

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It’s a Dog’s Life on Koh Tao http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/19/pups-of-koh-tao-dogvacay/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/19/pups-of-koh-tao-dogvacay/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33040

The following post is written by me and brought to you in collaboration with DogVacay — and there’s a special treat for my canine-loving readers at the end of it! Thanks for helping support Alex in Wanderland.

One of my favorite things about being home for the holidays? Getting to spend time with Tucker, my family’s beloved cocker spaniel. You guys may have heard me mention him before, you know, in basically any and every post that takes place along the East Coast of the United States (Tucker travelers frequently with us between Albany, Philadelphia, and Martha’s Vineyard).

When I’m traveling, I receive frequent updates and photos of Tuck living it up back home. But it does little to cure my puppy lust. So I get by however I can — donating to or volunteering with canine-centric charities, or assaulting street dogs with hugs and snacks. Koh Tao, though, is one of the few places I really get my Fido fix, thanks to the number of friends I have there with pups I can borrow for snuggle sessions. And the thing about the dogs on this island — at least the ones with human companions — is that they always seem to be on holiday.

Like Charlie, who’s never too busy to stop and selfie. (Okay, perhaps technically I was selfie-ing and Charlie was looking confused, but let’s not split hairs.)

Dogs on Koh Tao

Or like Ilo, resident guard dog at Maya Bar on Sairee Beach. She basically only guards against fish, which she patrols tirelessly for during every waking hour. And she gets a lot of nap breaks.

Dogs on Koh Tao

Dogs on Koh Tao

Or like Sadie, the most energetic furball I’ve known in a long time, who loves to lead ambitious hikes all over the island.

Dogs on Koh Tao

Dogs on Koh Tao

And then there’s little Saya, who adores being behind the wheel (though we are trying to teach her about the dangers of drinking and driving, she hasn’t quite caught on yet…).

Dogs on Koh Tao

Dogs on Koh Tao

Dogs on Koh Tao

And speaking of drinking dogs, there’s also Elmo — lovably crusty Elmo is most often found lounging on the bartop at either Maya or Banyan bars, giving the proverbial finger to Health and Safety codes everywhere. Can’t stop the paaaaarty! (And I mean literally, you cannot. Elmo doesn’t move for anyone. You could plop that pup on the bar, walk away for hours, and come back and Elmo would still be there giving side eye to the more lively establishment patrons.)

Dogs on Koh Tao

See what I’m saying? Pups on permanent holiday (and if you want to help dogs on Koh Tao that aren’t as fortunate, it’s easy to do.) Saya and Sadie in particular were a big part of my recent trip back to Thailand, and all these little guys put a smile on my face on a regular basis.

. . . . .

In my house, we like to think Tucker is on vacation basically every day. But what do you, my fellow canine lovers, do with your pups when it’s your turn to take the holiday? Enter my friends at DogVacay. DogVacay, which has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and The Today Show, is an online community connecting dog owners with more than 20,000 vetted and insured pet sitters across North America. If you’re as kennel-phobic as my family, I can’t think of a better option than leaving your beloved buddy in the caring home of a fellow dog lover — and at a fraction of the cost of keeping them caged somewhere.

And all of you dog whisperers saving up for your own next adventure? You can earn a few bucks hosting hounds on DogVacay, too. Just create a free profile, set your rates, pick which pups to take and when to take them.

And now for a very special treat that you don’t even have to sit to get (see what I did there?): DogVacay has extended a $20 off code as a bonus for Alex in Wanderland readers! Simply enter promo code “WANDERLAND,” valid through 1/31/15 for all first time users of the service. Feel free to call the concierge at 855-DOG-VACAY and let them play matchmaker — the team can recommend the perfect host based on your pup’s needs.

. . . . .

Do you have both pets and a travel addiction? Who takes care of your furballs when you’re on the road?

]]> http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/19/pups-of-koh-tao-dogvacay/feed/ 9 The Anatomy of a Burnout: Welcome Back to Thailand http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/18/anatomy-burnout-welcome-back-thailand/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/18/anatomy-burnout-welcome-back-thailand/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:40:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32912

I had big plans for my three months in Thailand.

Writing a Koh Tao guide. Overhauling my archives. Pitching freelance outlets I’ve been itching to write for. Tackling items on my to do list that have been stagnating there for, oh, I don’t know, years. I had mighty ambitions for doing all those things in my quarter year back in Southeast Asia.

Chumphon Pier

Frangipani on Koh Tao

Driving on Koh Tao

And you know what? I did basically none of them. I failed spectacularly at that list. Instead, my time back in Thailand was focused around a much more crucial goal: a little thing I call not losing my flipping mind.

Because guys, I was close.

Dive Boat on Koh Tao

Beach Bumming on Koh Tao

Sunset on Koh Tao

I’ve really struggled with how to write this post, because the last thing I want to do is come off ungrateful for my life or unaware of how privileged I’ve been to lead it. But every lifestyle involves sacrifices. And this one, for all it gives me, does lack in some things I’ve grown to feel the absence of — the comforts of a routine, the depth of long term friendships and relationships, the stability of regular employment, a place to call home, a sense of balance. The truth is, for me, much of 2014 was spent on the brink of burnout. Two of the things I love most in this world are blogging and traveling, and from those passions grew Alex in Wanderland. Yet somehow, around my third anniversary of non-stop travel and blogging, I came dangerously close to loathing both those things. When you create a business out of your passions, you have to be somewhat protective of yourself in order to make sure that flame doesn’t burn out — advice I simply was not heeding.

I sobbed tears of relief when I got to my hotel room in Bangkok, knowing how close I was to an apartment in Koh Tao where I’d sleep in the same bed for weeks in a row, and finally catch up on the backlog of work that was haunting me every night in the form of severe insomnia. When I got to the island and caught up with one of my oldest and closest friends there, I confessed to her how lost I felt. “Anna, I’m so tired. I can’t say I’m homesick because I don’t even have a home. But I’m dreading every plan I have coming up. I don’t know if I ever want to travel again.” She considered me closely. “Be careful who you say that to,” she replied. And I know she was right. Travel fatigue doesn’t elicit much empathy. But you guys are my people, and I think I can say pretty much anything to you.

Spa Days on Koh Tao

Paddleboarding on Koh Tao

Group Dinners on Koh Tao

Over the next three months, I gave myself permission to push all those big goals I had to the backburner. I splurged on a light-filled studio and rented a motorbike. I opened my apartment up as an office where my girls Katy and Anna — who also work online — came over almost every day for laptop time and laughter. I did my most pressing and urgent work, and then I firmly closed my computer. I went to muay thai or yoga or to the gym. I went paddleboarding and hiking and diving. I had a regular Sunday spa date where I gossiped with my friend Janine over foot massages. I went out drinking with my friends Brian and Chris. I ordered pizza and laid in bed and watched The Daily Show. I went beach and pool hopping with my girl Päivi. I started seeing a guy who made me smile and think and dream. I had movie nights and friends over for drinks. I had unpacked my bags entirely, and I felt deeply content every time I ran my hand along my things, neatly hung in my small closet. My heart swelled when I looked down and saw my keys in my palm – my bike, my apartment. I cancelled two upcoming trips and felt great relief at doing so. My days were filled with friendship and sunshine and the simple pleasures of sitting still. I cannot remember the last time I was so happy.

When it did come time to do a bit of traveling around Thailand — as I had committed to some things ahead of time, before declaring myself on hiatus — I basically brought my new life along with me. My jaunt to Koh Samui, Bangkok, Pai and Chiang Mai was filled with camaraderie, silliness, and a sincere lack of hoots about much else.

Snorkeling on Koh Tao

Colors of Koh Tao

SUP on Koh Tao

Now, I fear some of you might be reading this and thinking, “Hey, it didn’t look like you were having such a bad time when you were jetting around Maui and Las Vegas and gallivanting on the beaches of Greece! So what’s the deal, were you lying then or are you lying now?!” Well, I wasn’t really lying ever, but I maybe was at times selectively showing only the peaks of what had becoming a nauseating roller coaster ride of highs and lows. My mood swings were almost manic. I’d have this beautiful day on a beach somewhere and feel so grateful to be alive, and then as soon I disengaged from the moment I’d descend into a pit of anxiety about every and anything — did I update my accounts to reflect that recent payment, when am I going to find time to write that post, am I going to earn enough income this month, oh my god I never answered that email, how am I going to juggle next month’s itinerary and partnerships, where am I going to be sleeping next week. Yes, I was having fun, but the metaphorical emotional hangovers were excruciating.

I look at pictures from this year and I have the most poignant bittersweet emotions. For example, writing that third anniversary roundup post — I was so proud of that milestone, but I was sick with stress that week, and when I went out to dinner with my mom and sister that night, I didn’t even make it through the meal without crying. I was up and I was down and it was all going by too fast for me to savor or process or anything it.

Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

Colors of Koh Tao

But finally, in Thailand, life slowed down. I had lots of time to think and reflect. And I looked at myself and said, self, you are not happy! Is it time to pull up the anchor and sail in another direction? (And before you judge, I ask who among us does not use ocean metaphors when contemplating major life changes.) Bloggers far deeper in than I have done so. But in the end, I knew I needed a renovation, not a total rehaul — and now we’re onto home improvement metaphors. Rest in peace, Young House Love (seriously, you should read that article I just linked to).

And so I made some changes. As financially strapped as I was feeling, I was even more hard up for time — so I hired a part-time assistant who is now taking care of a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for me. I slowed down my travel schedule, in order to cut back on the amount of shuffling and planning and unpacking I do, and to give me ample time to both run my business and to enjoy the places I’m in. I thought long and hard about what my priorities are in my professional and personal life. I vowed to make saying no to things that don’t align with those priorities my New Year’s resolution. And I gave Thailand time to work its magic.

Beach Days on Koh Tao

Snorkeling on Koh Tao

And you know what? It did. Those three months followed by my current six weeks of sitting still in New York — they worked. My wanderlust is back. My excitement at waking up each morning to work is back. I’m back. And I’ve learned some invaluable lessons. I’m not ready to stop traveling and I’m sure as heck not ready to stop writing — you won’t get rid of me so easily! — but I am ready to start embracing doing both a little bit differently. And part of that is going to involve much more time in Thailand to recharge, just like I had here. I’m sure this isn’t the last time I’ll fall into a rut and I can promise you it wasn’t the first. But for now, I’m going to enjoy being on the upswing.

And be grateful to Koh Tao for waking me up, again.

SUP on Koh Tao

Snorkeling on Koh Tao

SUP on Koh Tao

Beach Days on Koh Tao

. . . . . . . .

How do you cope with burnout?

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Photo of the Week 183 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/15/photo-week-183/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/15/photo-week-183/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 01:18:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32913

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… and more importantly, it’s starting to feel like it. While my time in New York City was far too brief, I did manage to cram a lot in, including a snowy stroll to Rockefeller Center to see the tree, festive nights out to the titillating Duane Park in Manhattan and to hotspots Shrine and Red Rooster in Harlem. I love the theme that developed in this week’s photos — the city after dark.

As crushed as I was to say what felt like a very abrupt goodbye to the big city, returning back upstate to Albany this weekend felt pretty damn good. It may not be as tall as the one on 49th street, but there’s nothing like coming home to the Christmas tree all lit up in the house I grew up in. The Glee holiday album on repeat, frantic holiday party planning and regular fireside sessions are all on the agenda as I look forward to sleeping in the same bed for more than two weeks straight. In other words, look for plenty of cocker-spaniel-in-a-Christmas-sweater portraits in next week’s edition.

For now, onto Photo of the Week… a Manhattan edition!

Photo A

Rockefeller Center at ChristmasThe holidays in New York City

Photo B

Duane Park NYCAn impressive night at Duane Park

Photo C

Radio City at ChristmasFestive modern art Radio City

Photo D

Shrine HarlemLive music at Shrine in Harlem

Photo E

Rockefeller Center at ChristmasChristmas at Rockefeller Center

Which photo is your favorite?

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How to Stopover in Bahrain in Style http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/11/what-to-do-in-bahrain/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/11/what-to-do-in-bahrain/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:50:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32921

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Manama, I was transfixed by Bahrain. I love the sensation of being jolted awake by a place that feels truly exotic, and that’s what my first taste of the Middle East did for me.

With just twenty-four hours, I’m in awe of just how much I took in. A lot of that is thanks to my hosts at the Intercontinental Bahrain, who set me up with both a driver and one of their lovely managers, Mohammed, to show me around the tiny island nation. The diminutive size of Bahrain also made our super charged sightseeing tour possible — nothing is too far from anything else. While I had mentioned a few highlights I was anxious to see, I mostly handed over the reigns to the local experts and allowed myself to be shuttled around in style.

Bahrain Cultural Centre

1. Bahrain National Museum

Lonely Planet listed the Bahrain National Museum as the country’s most popular tourist attraction, and I could quickly see why. The stark modern architecture of the exterior was the perfect contrast to the complex cultural and historical stories told within. While I spent about an hour here, I could have easily spent two or three.

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

As interesting as the ancient history sections were — Bahrain is brimming with important archaeological sites and is hypothesized by some to be the setting for the fabled Garden of Eden — I found the exhibits on contemporary Bahrain most intriguing. With a modest entry fee and so much insight into the local culture, it would be crazy to miss this museum.

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain National Museum

2. Al Fateh Grand Mosque

Though I’ve traveled a fair bit in Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, the only mosques I’ve ever entered have been in Istanbul. So I was looking forward to visiting Bahrain’s Al Fateh Grand Mosque, the largest building in the country.

Mohammed informed me that I’d have to don an abaya and headscarf in order to enter the mosque, and true to his word, I was whisked away into a women only dressing room upon walking through the doors. There, a friendly girl around my age chatted to me about my travels while expertly wrapping my shawl into a fashionable headscarf. Like any visitors to the mosque, we were then handed off to a volunteer guide.

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain

I deeply appreciated the guide’s thorough explanation of the roots of Islam, and her patient answering of my endless questions. As we were about to enter the prayer room, I breathlessly asked why we were taking our shoes off — what was the history? The meaning? “To keep the carpets clean,” she replied dryly, tossing her slippers aside.

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain

This is another unmissable stop in Bahrain. Unlike some mosques that are visited like any other tourist attraction, Al Fateh is dedicated to education and I was touched by the hospitality I was shown here.

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain

3. Royal Camel Farm

You can’t go to the Middle East and not see camels. It’s a fact. Which is why I was so excited to visit Bahrain’s own Royal Camel Farm. I was also admittedly somewhat confused, because what even is a Royal Camel Farm actually. Details were thin, with even Mohammed a bit perplexed as to the purpose of the camels.

What we did know was the camels were owned by the royal family, they were not raced or worked in any way, and throwing unwanted materials was strictly prohibited by security.

Royal Camel Farm Bahrain

Royal Camel Farm Bahrain

Royal Camel Farm Bahrain

I was content snapping away and squealing at every movement the camels made when I caught sight of Mohammed, who didn’t look so well. “I have never been outside for so long in August,” he explained, wiping sweat from his eyes. We had been out of the car for ten minutes. In his defense, the heat index was hovering around 100°F.

Royal Camel Farm Bahrain

Royal Camel Farm Bahrain

Royal Camel Farm Bahrain

4. Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve

Because you can never have too many camels in your life, we also stopped by the Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve. The sprawling reserve is home to indigenous Middle Eastern bird and mammal species, including our favorite humped horse (okay, know they’re not actually horses.) Due to the heat, we didn’t stay long, but I think it would be a lovely spot to explore on a more mild day. For short stopovers, you’ll probably give Al Areen a miss, as it’s located outside Manama in the Southwest of the island.

Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve Bahrain

Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve Bahrain

Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve Bahrain

Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve Bahrain

Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve Bahrain

5. Formula One Racetrack

Our visit didn’t coincide with one of the three days a week that official behind-the-scenes tours of the track are given (that’s Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, in case you were curious), but we charm the guards into letting us take a peek at Bahrain’s own Formula One Racetrack. While I’m not much into that scene, I did regale Mohammed with stories of my one time behind a race car wheel.

The racetrack is easily combined with a visit to neighboring Al Areen Wildlife Park.

The Bahrain International Circuit

The Bahrain International Circuit

The Bahrain International Circuit

The Bahrain International Circuit

6. Looking Out the Window

It’s the mark of a place that feels truly exotic when you can’t tear your eyes from a car window. Simple things like signs for turnoffs to Saudi Arabia, the familiar Subway logo unrecognizable in Arabic, and endless miles of desert stretched out in front of us all gave me a smile.

The time I spent in the car chatting to Mohammed about his experiences living and working around the Persian Gulf was one of the highlights of my day. I was fascinated especially by his stories of Saudi Arabia, which felt suddenly so close yet so ideologically far. Technically, it’s just across the King Fahd Causeway, where as my fellow blogger Raymond wrote, “you’ll catch the slightest scent of oil money and human rights violations wafting across the Gulf.”

A country where alcohol and cinemas are forbidden, women can’t drive, malls have separate opening hours for men and women, public spaces from post offices to restaurants are segregated by gender, and the only non-familial men that most women every meet is their driver? I was starting to understand why so many Saudis flock to Bahrain for weekend fun, leaving most of their rigid rules behind. As for the Saudi’s taste for splendor, Mohammed explained, “luxury is a band aid for the lack of rights.”

Welcome to Bahrain

Bahrain Airport McDonald's

As we approached one neighborhood en route back to Manama and the airport, Mohammed explained that the area was known for political protests. The words had barely left his mouth when a thick blanket of back smoke appeared, and soon we approached an intersection where tires where tires had been set aflame by indignant demonstrators. Rather than stop traffic, cars inched slowly around them; when it was our turn, we both snapped photos with our iPhones, and Mohammed laughed nervously. I just smiled. I really was seeing quite a bit in just twenty-three short hours.

Bahrain Tire Burning

. . . . . . .

I think what makes this brief stay so significant for me is that it has opened up an entirely new region of the world to my realm of possibilities. Previously, I think I was equal parts intimidated by and indifferent to travel in the Middle East. Yet in spite of the burning tires and the metal detectors at the entrance to my hotel, I felt incredibly safe and welcome, and intrigued to learn more about this culture so exotic to me. Leaving Bahrain, I started to daydream about traveling to countries that were never really on my radar before.

Back at the airport just a day after I’d touched down, I strained to hear my boarding call announcement over the amplified evening call to prayer. And as I made my way to my gate, I smiled again — I’d be back soon.

Bahrain Cultural Centre

. . . . . . .

Still holiday shopping? Don’t forget to check out my new Wanderland Wearable collection!

. . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Intercontinental Bahrain for their overwhelming hospitality. As usual, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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The Wanderland Holiday Shop http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/09/holiday-gift-guide/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/09/holiday-gift-guide/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 20:15:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32919

This year, my mom asked me for some ideas for Christmas gifts, and my resulting list was a red flag that I’m on a slippery slope to boringsville — a hair cut, sunscreen, and even more packing cubes were on the exciting end of the spectrum. (Okay — one watermelon bikini made its way in there — between that and my recent flamingo dress purchase I’m well on my way to achieving my dream of being a Katy Perry backup dancer, no? Those should keep me out of lameland for a while.)

Anyway, my point is that I sincerely hope you all have more exciting holiday wish lists than I do. And if not? Well, Tucker and I have some suggestions.

Christmas Dinner Party

1. Wanderland Wearables

I’m really not much of a shopper when I’m home. Retail environments tend to zap me of the will to live, and if I make it all the way to the check out line I always end up angsting out over whether or not I want to carry my potential purchase with me around the world and back (#livingoutofabackpackproblems). But on my travels it’s another story entirely — I love wandering through exotic markets, checking out local artisans and bringing back treasures for my family and friends, and even myself on occasion.

I’ve long been toying with the idea of setting up a shop here on Alex in Wanderland to bring some of my favorite finds to you, but a lot of obstacles have stood in my metaphorical way. Those include but are not limited to: the fact that I’m better at having ideas than implementing them, the limitations of my online-shop creating technical skills, and not really knowing if anyone would even be into that kind of thing.

However, during my most recent time in Thailand, I found a jewelry vendor I’d bought from years earlier — and it inspired me to finally give this idea a trial run. So, without further ado, I present Wanderland Wearables!

These are earrings I’ve personally owned and worn my own pair of for years and received compliments on over and over again. The metal leaf design above goes with absolutely everything and are incredibly hardy and perfect for traveling. The laser-cut wooden design below are a bit more delicate, but also insanely lightweight — I often forget that I have them in at all.

Sourced with love from Thailand, packaged with soul in New York. A limited run of each are available for $15.99 with free shipping within the USA. I will ship all orders on December 15th. Click any image above to buy — or visit my Etsy shop here! I hope you all will love these little guys as much as I do.

Update: We are all sold out. Thank you so much and watch out for the next collection!

2. Welcome to Wanderland Swag

When I launched my new site design, I loved my new logo so much that I released a few products with slight variations of it. If you want to take a little piece of Wanderland with you on your next adventure, might I suggest a snazzy new tote bag? Or perhaps you’d like to sip your morning tea out of something swank while daydreaming of your next journey — I know just the mug for that.

Check out my Zazzle shop for Welcome to Wanderland mugs, totes and luggage tags, and Alex in Wanderland stickers. When you do, send me a photo and I’ll share it and tag you on my social media accounts! (A reader mug shot gallery, if you will. Zing!)

3. A Few of My Favorite Things

Looking for a few more gift ideas for yourself or your favorite travel buddy? Check out my Obsessions page, where I outline my absolute travel must haves. From camera gear to luggage necessities to green travel tools, there are potential presents in there at all price points.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Christmas Dinner Party

And now back to our regularly scheduled travel programming. But before we go, I’m dying to know…

What are you wishing for this holiday season?

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Photo of the Week 182: New York http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/08/photo-week-182-new-york/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/08/photo-week-182-new-york/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32853

Ah, New York state in December, how I’ve missed you…. um, mostly. I’m absolutely loving getting into the real holiday spirit, spending some quality time with family and friends, and bustling around my favorite city and my beloved hometown. I’m even handling the cold okay! But, is it possible we could talk to someone about getting the lights left on a little longer? The fact that it gets dark outside at 4:30pm is a tough adjustment, and I keep asking people if it really was always this way, considering I did spent like twenty consecutive winters here. For the most part though, I think the fact that I missed the holidays last year and likely will again in 2015 makes me cherish this time at home even more deeply.

Over the last seven days I descended from Albany into New York City and have been all over the place, from ice skating in Prospect Park to celebrating a friend’s birthday in Brooklyn to supporting the WPA at their festive holiday soiree at Webster Hall. This week, I’ll be doing more backyard exploring in both the five boroughs (well, at least three of them anyway) and then back up in Albany, while trying to sort out the logistics and flights for my next big adventure — announcement coming soon!

Onto Photo of the Week!

Photo A

Brooklyn Photography WalkStrolling through New York City

Photo B

The Manhattan Bridge at SunsetWalking over the Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset

Photo C

Ice Skating at Prospect ParkIce skating in Prospect Park

Photo D

Lower Manhattan at NightThe Manhattan Skyline

Which photo is your favorite? What are you up to this week?

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Greetings from the Gulf http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/04/intercontinental-regency-bahrain/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/04/intercontinental-regency-bahrain/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 15:59:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32783

“The time is currently 9:05pm, and the temperature outside is 108° Fahrenheit. Welcome to Bahrain.”  A shot of static signaled the end of the announcement, and I watched transfixed as the women on my flight transformed. In Athens, they had boarded the plane in high end resort wear, sleeveless designer dresses and tight, trendy jeans. In Manama, a whirl of fabric later, they deplaned swathed in elegant scarves, colorful hijabs, and long, dark abayas.

Welcome to Bahrain, indeed.

Welcome to Bahrain

I spent a lot of time looking at flights in preparation for my six week summer trip through Europe. The only one for which I couldn’t find a bargain was Greece to Thailand. What I did find, though, was a very intriguing route — one that included a twenty-three hour layover in the Kingdom of Bahrain, at only forty dollars more than the cheapest option available.

And that’s how Bahrain became the first country I collected a passport stamp from in the Middle East, and the second country I’ve traveled to exclusively thanks to an airline layover (don’t worry, Singapore, there’s room for everyone in this bizarre and made-up travel category).

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Lobby

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Lobby

After the initial rush of booking the ticket and downloading the Lonely Planet Bahrain chapter wore off, I started to get the slightest bit antsy about how this trip was going to go down. Hostels are non-existent in Bahrain, and my guidebook hinted that cheap hotels often rent rooms by the hour, if you know what I’m sayin’. (Brothels, guys. That’s what I’m saying.) Basic hotels like the Holiday Inn or Best Western start at $100, and so I decided I was happy to pay up to $150 for a night of sleep somewhere comfortable. But I was also concerned about how I’d get around — I was eager to make the most of my meager time in Bahrain, but came up empty when searching for tour guides, and was unsure if I could talk a taxi into negotiating a flat rate for my stay. Oh, and did I mention I was visiting in August, the hottest and most humid month of the year? And that as a woman traveling alone, I was the tiniest bit anxious about visiting an entirely new region of the world for the first time ever?

All that is to say I can’t tell you how happy I was when the Intercontinental Bahrain offered to show me around this intriguing little island.

View From InterContinental Regency Bahrain

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Club Suite Room

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Club Suite Room

Landing late after a long day of work and packing and travel, I was ready to collapse in bed and set my alarm for an early morning wake up the next day. Then I opened the door to my room. Um, sleep? When I had all these chairs to test out, snacks to eat, and beautifully scented bath products to use? Who needs sleep!

Okay, I mean, I did crawl into my bed eventually. But wow, did I love this room — not to mention arriving in Thailand refreshed from two manageable half days of travel broken up by a great night of rest rather than one massive trans-continental slog. And while I was spoiled by a plush club suite, standard rooms at this hotel start at around $160 — a great value considering the city standard.

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Club Suite Room

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Club Suite Room

InterContinental Regency Bahrain Club Suite Bathroom

And there would be no airport food for this layover. Nope — I was dining in serious style at the Intercontinental’s own Legendz Steakhouse. Each course was a work of art, but even more impressive was the company. I ate with two of the hotel’s managers and lapped up their stories of expat life in Bahrain and their work in the hospitality industry across the Persian Gulf states.

Legendz Steakhouse Bahrain

Legendz Steakhouse Bahrain

Legendz Steakhouse Bahrain

Legendz Steakhouse Bahrain

My only regret is that with my short stay, I didn’t have more time to lounge around the hotel’s trendy bars (yup, alcohol is sold in Bahrain — in fact, it’s a bit of a weekend playground for citizens of more strict and traditional neighboring countries), tempting restaurants and oasis-like pool area.

InterContinental Regency Pool Bar

InterContinental Regency Downtown Club

InterContinental Regency Bahrain

In fact, when I woke up the next morning and went for a wander around the hotel, it took all I had not to flop face first into that pool. Did I mention it was a little warm?

InterContinental Regency Pool

InterContinental Regency Pool

That morning, twelve hours in and twelve hours to go on my time in Bahrain, my iPhone informed me the temperature would soon top 108° — with a 114° heat index. While I’d been assured that Western dress was acceptable in forward-thinking Bahrain, every woman I’d seen was swathed tastefully and stylishly in something that covered both shoulders and knees. (I actually chatted with a Mormon friend about this not long after leaving Bahrain. I was like, really, you’ve got to see these chicks! We concluded that the women of Bahrain need to bring high fashion modesty to the conservatively-dressing populations of the USA.) There was no way I was going to go out rocking some crumpled backpacker short shorts.

So, how to dress demurely for oppressive heat? Thankfully, I had picked up an outfit in Athens just for the occasion.

Bahrain

Stay tuned for my next post, in which my flamingos and I take on the top sights of Manama!

. . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Intercontinental Bahrain for their overwhelming hospitality. As usual, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Holy Wow! The Monasteries of Meteora http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/01/viator-meteora-tour/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/12/01/viator-meteora-tour/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 14:15:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32770

Jaw-dropping.

It’s a descriptor I’ve had multiple writing professors warn me against. And I understand why. It’s cliche, and it’s more or less meaningless considering how often it’s used to describe something that barely elicits a jowl droop. But what about those times your mouth actually does fall open in awe at the sight of what lies in front of you?

That’s what happened to me at Meteora.

Traveling to Meteora

My expectations were stratosphere-high the morning I woke up in Kalambaka, ready to finally lay eyes on the clifftop monasteries I’d heard and read so much about. Every person I know who’d been struggled to find words to describe the experience, and photos appeared to be from a movie set rather than an actual non-fictional space on this planet. The previous day’s exploration of Delphi had only heightened my anticipation.

And as the bus heaved around the final bend, and the first limestone cliffs emerged in the distance, there was only one way to describe the scene ahead: jaw-dropping.

Meteora, Greece

Meteora

Meteora

I was on day two of a Two Day Trip to Delphi and Meteora from Athens, a tour I’d signed on for to maximize my extremely limited time left in Greece and finally scratch my Meteora itch. The historically important area was originally home to twenty four Eastern Orthodox monasteries, of which six still remain. Five monasteries are open per day, with the rotating sixth taking a turn being closed to visitors, so the monks or nuns may pray in peace. Our guide would take us on guided tours to two, starting with The Holy Monastery of Varlaam.

Monasteries of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

Meteora Monastery

After huffing the steep steps from the parking lot, donning modesty skirts and shawls, and being dutifully handed our thin paper tickets, our tour guide Joy gathered us close. For once I listened intently to a guide’s words rather than scurry away with my camera, and marveled at the history that had seeped deep into the walls over the past seven centuries.

And then eventually, you know, I scurried away with my camera.

Monasteries of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

Meteora Monastery

Greek Monastery

Photography is not allowed within the inner sanctums of the buildings, but there was plenty to play with within sanctioned areas.

“So are you a professional photographer then?,” one of my fellow tour members asked, as I obsessively tried to capture the Greek flag flapping in front of a squinting sun. “No, just an asshole with a big camera who likes to pretend to be one,” I replied, and we cackled in unison. I was starting to appreciate these tour groups, and their built-in audience to my bad jokes.

Monasteries of Meteora

Greek Monastery

Meteora, Greece

One of the most amazing aspects of the monasteries? They were built without roads or paths up to the doors — materials were lifted using pulley systems that are still in use today. I stood at the bottom of the Holy Monastery of Varlaam for a full twenty minutes before we left, just watching the basket be lifted and lowered from the tower above. A relic from another era, still in use today.

Which makes visiting Meteora a lot like going back in time.

Greek Monastery

Between our two monastery visits, we pulled over to the side of the road at a viewpoint where we could admire the unique topography of the valley. Meteora literally means “suspended in the air,” and I could see why. The cliffs looked like the fingers of the Earth, trying to claw their way into the sky.

Formed by earthquakes, smoothed by water and wind, these cliffs form one of the most distinctive landscapes I’ve ever seen.

Viator Tour of Meteora

Meteora, Greece

Viator Tour of Meteora

Cliffs of Meteora

At one point, our guided pointed out a cave filled with fabric and clothing, a tradition kept up by the local villagers from nearby Kastraki.

Meteora Cave

Our next stop was Agiou Stefanou, the only monastery populated by nuns rather than monks. While this monastery was perched much closer to ground level, the surroundings were no less dramatic.

Viator Tour of Meteora

Viator Tour of Meteora

Viator Tour of Meteora

The monasteries of Meteora are indeed flooded with tourists — at least in the summer. Joy confided that her favorite time to visit is in the winter, when there’s a light dusting of snow on the ground and no footprints from fellow tourists to mar it. Yet regardless of the number of people I was sharing the experience with, Meteora had an unshakeable spiritual air.

Monasteries of Meteora

Meteora Monastery Ticket

Meteora Monastery Visit

While ideally I would have spent several days based in Meteora, visiting all the monasteries and taking part in some of the adventure travel opportunities in the area, sometimes compromises have to be made. This tour involves a significant number of hours on the road, and there is no time to enjoy either the beautiful hotel you stay in or the modern versions of the ancient cities you visit. Regardless, I’m so grateful there is an option out there that allowed me to make it to Meteora in the days I had left in Greece.

And there were bonuses — the views from the bus seat made the hours pass quickly, and the alternative for those trying to replicate the route independently are pretty nightmarish (there is no direct public transportation from Delphi to Meteora, meaning either multiple bus transfers or an extremely expensive private transfer). Our hotel and both meals included there were lovely. Our guide Joy was, well, truly a joy. While I wasn’t overly impressed with the typical tourist restaurants we were bussed to for our non-included lunch both days, Joy happily pointed me in the direction of where I could walk to grab to cheap gyro instead. All in all, it was the perfect note to end my pitch perfect time in Greece — and Europe — on.

Meteora, Greece

Meteora, Greece

Viator Tour of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

My first trip to Greece was a tease, just a week — enough to know I wanted to come back someday, enough to know I really liked the place. This time, leaving Athens almost a month after I first passed through — this was enough to know that I love this country, that I want to come back again and again.

Recently a friend and I made a list of every country we’d ever been to, and then challenged each other to pick our top five favorites. It was a struggle to narrow down out of my twenty-six, but when I finished, there was a scrawled ballpoint pen heart marked firmly next to number thirteen: Greece.

Meteora, Greece

This post was brought to you by the iPhone video editing app TogetherI am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.



Final Call!

Cyber Monday Sale Alert! Travel Blog Success is on sale for the last time in 2014! You’ve probably heard me sing the praises of this online course for helping me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today, and it is the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice. Travel Blog Success helped me move Alex in Wanderland from a hobby to a business. The secret member’s group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and assistance (and a heavy dose of humor!) This is truly the warmest community in travel blogging, and all memberships are on sale now.

Click here to receive 35% off all memberships — no code needed! Sale ends TODAY at 11:59 PM EST. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!

TBS

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Photo of the Week 181: Thanksgiving http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/30/photo-week-181/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/30/photo-week-181/#comments Sun, 30 Nov 2014 14:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32766

It’s hard for me to comprehend that it’s been over a week since I landed back on US soil — time is flying by exactly as I predicted it would. It felt fantastic to be home for Thanksgiving again, and this year my family had the honor of introducing our favorite holiday to an Australia friend of mine, Sam, who has recently moved to New York City. We had so much fun baking, crafting, taking a billion photos of snow (okay, that was mostly Sam), and dressing Tucker up in ridiculous costumes (okay, that was mostly me). I do adore the holidays!

This upcoming week I’m looking forward to hibernating from the cold and tackling massive amounts of writing, blasting through the gym every day, and spending copious amounts of time with my favorite people — and canine.

Happy holidays!

Thanksgiving

Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale Alert! Travel Blog Success is on sale for the last time in 2014! You’ve probably heard me sing the praises of this online course for helping me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today, and it is the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice. Travel Blog Success helped me move Alex in Wanderland from a hobby to a business. The secret member’s group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and assistance (and a heavy dose of humor!) This is truly the warmest community in travel blogging, and all memberships are on sale now.

Click here to receive 35% off all memberships — no code needed! Sale ends at 11:59 PM EST on Monday, December 1st. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!

TBS

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