Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:30:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Third Time’s a Charm to be Charmed by London http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/20/london/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/20/london/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29755 “Seriously, what am I going to write about this week?,” I called out to my friend Kat as I stepped into the shower in her Shadwell flat. “I have done nothing but eat and drink since I got my passport stamped. Maybe I’ll just title my post Places to Get Drunk and Fat in London?

So, I went with something a bit more sentimental. But still. This being my third spin through the city, I felt 100% free from the obligation to sight see or play good tourist. Let’s get real — I wasn’t playing good blogger either, even flirting with the idea of leaving my week in the UK off the blog entirely. All I wanted out of this trip was quality time with my favorite British-accented babes, and nothing else. Okay. Maybe a few delicious ciders too.

One Week in London

My first stop on the friend tour of London was lovely Lou’s flat in Queen’s Park. Louise and I met in 2009 when we did our Open Water diving course together in Thailand. Through the wonders of the internet and my occasional trips to London, we’ve stayed in touch swapping travel tales and tips ever since. She’s been a bit of a role model to me and I love the way she lives her life!

Lou is an HBIC at a major corporation in London (someday I am going to have to get this girl to write a guest post about how she balances a major career with so much travel), so throughout my stay we met up in the evenings for drinks and dinners and during the day I did my own thing. “My own thing,” in this case, meant a brunch-tastic business meeting at Gail’s, writing blog posts, sleeping off my jetlag and my overnight airport layover in Iceland (when will I learn to stop doing that to myself), building mix and match salads and Marks and Spencer and heading to a cool local gym for what I assumed would be a weightlifting class but turned out to be more of an hour long bounce sesh but was lovely nonetheless.

London's Queens Park

Also, I remembered how much I enjoy British humor.

Typical British Humor

Typical British Humor

But wait, sorry, this post is supposed to be about places I got my gluttony on, not snarky bumper stickers! One night, I met Lou outside her office after work along with special guest Neil, our Open Water instructor and one of my dear friends — you might remember him from our last reunion on the other side of the world in Nusa Lembongan. Because I was in chilled hang-with-old-friends mode and not be-a-good-blogger mode, I forgot my camera and only took this one crappy iPhone photo, which zero percent reflects how cute Riding House Café is. Perfect spot for tapas and drinks if you’re near Oxford Circus.

Riding House Cafe, London

My time with Lou (and Neil!) was all too short and soon I was on my way to my next hostess with the mostest, Kat. Kat was my first real friend upon moving to Koh Tao in 2011 and is one of the closest I’ve made in all my years of world wandering. Damn did we tear that island up! I do not have words to properly express the happiness I felt sitting at the bar of Opera Tavern with my dear old friend, reminiscing about the good old days, filing each other in on some of the harsh current ones, and toasting to better days ahead. Though once again my mind was elsewhere and I didn’t take a single photo, Opera Tavern is a must in Covent Garden — and I’m only slightly biased by the fact that Kat is the General Manager.

Soon it was time to move the party onwards and upwards — all the way up to Radio Rooftop Bar. Just a few steps and several stories away from Opera Tavern, Radio had views impressive enough to inspire this lazy vacationing photographer to whip out the iPhone. As we sipped away on the balcony, we watched the sun set over London and all its impressive landmarks — The London Eye, Big Ben, and the River Thames.

Radio Rooftop Bar London

Radio Rooftop Bar London

Radio Rooftop Bar London

Radio Rooftop Bar London

We may have gone a tad overboard at Radio. And by tad I mean we racked up one of the biggest bar bills of my life, raged our way back to Opera Tavern, and had an after hours dance party that is somewhat fully fuzzy in my memory. What can I say? There’s nothing like reuniting with your old partner-in-crime to inspire you to tear the town apart in a major way.

Kat, ever the fabulous entertainer, had had big plans for the following day. However, relentless rain and the worst hangover I can remember in recent history put a damper on them and we spent the entire day lounging around her gorgeous flat (doesn’t flat sound so much more glamorous than apartment?), save for an extremely touch-and-go bike ride to Sainsbury’s for emergency snacking supplies.

By the time evening arrived we had flat fever, and over the conversation this post opened with, we vowed to have a blog-worthy evening. I mean, guys, I brought my big camera and everything.

Shadwell Station London

London Locks Shoreditch

Shoreditch Street Art

Our destination was Shoreditch, and our unamused companion was Kat’s darling husband Stefan, who’d been peacefully slumbering when we came crashing in from our bender the night before and woke him up by jumping on the bed and trying to start a pillow fight. Considering how much I love listening to these two banter in their South African accents — possibly my favorite lilt on the planet — I was in heaven. Minus the residual hangover.

Shoreditch will always be the place that melted my heart towards London.

Shoreditch Street Art

Shoreditch, London

Shoreditch, London

Let's Adore and Endure Each Other, Shoreditch Street Art, London

Shoreditch Street Art

I fell madly in love with this particular piece of street art, which seemed to speak so poignantly to relationships I hold most dear. Let’s adore and endure each other, indeed.

Let's Adore and Endure Each Other, Shoreditch Street Art, London

Let's Adore and Endure Each Other, Shoreditch Street Art, London

Dinner was dim sum at The Drunken Monkey. Kat and Stefan weren’t impressed, but aside from the disinterested service I had no complaints — the garlic soaked broccoli was a particular favorite and the cocktail list was impressive.

The Drunken Monkey, London

The Drunken Monkey, London

But after dinner was the real treat. While halfheartedly searching for something to do that night, Kat had showed me a website BarChick, which reminds me of a London-specific version of the Drinkadvisor app I just reviewed. BarChick’s description of Shoreditch speakeasy The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town intrigued us — I mean with that name, how could it not? — and we made note of the detailed directions for entering the hallowed grounds.

Step one was to make our way to The Breakfast Club, a hip AM eatery that is high on my list of places to dine next time I find myself in London town.

Speakeasy in London, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

Speakeasy in London, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

Once inside, we took a seat in the mostly vacant restaurant, ordered a round of drinks, and altered the waitress that we were “there to see the mayor.” He was a bit busy at the moment, she replied, but she’d let us know when there was an opening. Just as we started to lose hope, she beckoned us forward and led us inside a secret passageway hidden within a Smeg refrigerator (hipster homeowners eat your hearts out.)

We liked what we found.

Speakeasy in London, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

The teeny tiny speakeasy at the bottom was dripping with cool. The decor was kitsch in the hippest kind of way, and the extensive cocktail list was full of surprises. Such as the fact that my drink would arrive on fire. With flames.

Speakeasy in London, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

Speakeasy in London, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

But my favorite bit? Heading to the loo bathroom and noting the stenciled words etched across the wooden door; WORLD’S SMALLEST DISCO. Indeed, inside, the reflections of a small rotating disco ball sparkled against the black tile. Mayor, you won me over.

Speakeasy in London, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

For my final evening with Kat and Stefan we switched gears entirely from trendy to traditional, and rode our bikes through the balmy evening towards Prospect of Whitby, London’s oldest riverside pub. After grabbing a round of ciders and crabbies from the 494 year old bar, we made our way out to the deck and soaked up the views of the River Thembs. Later, my iPhone decided to eat my most adorable snaps from the day, but it had the compassion to spare these two.

Watefront London Pub

Watefront London Pub

I’ll wrap this post up with the short version of a long but beautiful story. That final afternoon, getting off the bus at Kat’s place after running a few errands, I froze, realizing suddenly that my wallet was not with me. What followed was a mess of frantic phone calls with endlessly friendly dispatchers, breathlessly hopping on various buses to please my case to bemused drivers, and eventually biking several miles out to the bus depot to retrieve the sweetly rescued wallet. Maybe it was the adrenaline from the ride, but as we whooped our way back, wallet in hand, I never like London more.

The best part? Earlier in the day, I had found an iPhone on the street and turned it in immediately. That same afternoon, I lost my wallet, and it came back to me. Coincidence? I think karma.

Lost Wallet Returned in London

Stay tuned for part II of my week in London!

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Photo of the Week 166: Greece http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/18/photo-week-166-greece/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/18/photo-week-166-greece/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29983 Greetings from… you guessed it, Greece! My mind is reeling at how quickly the past two weeks of my Greek Island Hopping tour went by. Santorini charmed me once again, and Ios made a memorable first impression. But what surprised me most of all? How hard it was yesterday to say goodbye to the friends I’d made. I was incredibly apprehensive about joining a group tour yet somehow sign off was filled with heartfelt hugs and even a few true promises to travel together again.

Today I’m off to my final Greek destination — a two day trip to Meteora with Viator. What a way to wrap up Europe! Then I’m off to Bahrain for a whirlwind twenty four hour tour before finally landing in beautiful Bangkok. Next week’s Photo of the Week collection should be interesting.

Wishing you safe travels wherever you are in the world this week…

Photo A
Pyrgos, SantoriniExploring Santorini’s charming Pyrgos town

Photo B
Donkey on SantoriniI sat with this sad donkey for a long time

Photo C
Black Sand Beaches on SantoriniFalling in love with black sand beaches in Santorini

Photo D
Stand Up Paddling on IosPaddleboarding along Mylopotas Beach in Ios (I’m the photographer, not the model!)

Which photo is your favorite?

A few quick housekeeping notes: First, my email server is once again on a campaign of terror and I seem to be getting only about half the messages sent my way. If you’ve tried to reach me recently, please resend and shoot me a message on Twitter or Instagram to confirm I’ve received it! Secondly, I apologize for the light posting this week and next as I put all my free time and energy into launching my new site redesign. I promise it will be worth it.

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The Great Escape: Months 36 and 37 Roundup http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/17/months-36-37-roundup/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/17/months-36-37-roundup/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 21:45:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=28497 This roundup rounds out my summertime stateside… or what I caught of it, anyway! I’ve typed it before and here I am typing it again — it’s a good thing the East Coast isn’t as beautiful as it is in the summer all year round, or I might never leave. As usual, much of what I’m up to when I’m “home” doesn’t turn into big blog posts, making these US-based roundups the juiciest.

These months were all about hard hits of family bonding and friend debauchery punctuated by two thrill-filled domestic trips. All the loss and uncertainly I’d been experiencing recently made me more appreciate than ever of my loved ones and the time I get to spend with them, so I really did soak up every happy second.

Yet, continuing the theme of my last two roundups, while things often looked cheery on the surface, there was quite a bit going on behind the scenes that I was too preoccupied processing to write about in real time. A minor but frustrating health drama took me by suprise, and continued stress over all the other usual life speedbumps led to a general sense of anxiety that seemed to sit with me throughout the summer.

Mother's Day Weekend in AlbanyAlbany

Where I’ve Been

The short answer:

• 26 days in New York
• 15 days in Massachusetts
• 11 days in Hawaii
• 5 days in Nevada
• 3 days in Pennsylvania

The long answer:

• 4 days in Albany / New York
• 5 days in Las Vegas / Nevada
• 2 days in Lake George / New York
• 11 days in Hawaii / Hawaii
• 6 days in Albany / New York
• 8 days in Martha’s Vineyard / Massachusetts
• 3 days in Philadelphia / Pennsylvania
• 7 days in New York City / New York
• 7 days in Albany / New York
• 7 days in Martha’s Vineyard/ Massachusetts

Las Vegas Travel RoundupLas Vegas

Highlights

• Witnessing the start of summer. Mother’s Day weekend, celebrated in Albany with my beloved Tulip Fest, marked the re-arrival of beautiful weather. It’s amazing what a difference the sunshine makes in my mental state. I decided that this will be the weekend I aim to arrive home for the summer season next year.

• Returning to Nevada. My second trip to Las Vegas this year had lots of experiences competing for the title of highest highlight: sipping white at an idyllic Pahrump winery, riding the High Roller with high school bestie Liz, ziplining over Bootleg Canyon, the list goes on. But the ones that really stood out were helicopters and hookers. Flying over the Grand Canyon was an obvious awe-inspirer (I still can’t believe I did that!), but interviewing prostitutes in a legal Nevada brothel was eye-opening in a different way, and I was incredibly grateful for the unique experience.

• Watching my girl Amanda get hitched. Partying with my high school crew on such a special occasion was a true treat. Warm and fuzzy memory alert: when my mom saw me feeling blue one day and flailing to find an appropriate outfit for the wedding, she cheered me up by taking me to the mall for a fun girly day of shopping for a dress and shoes. I know for a lot of moms and daughters that’s a normal bonding activity but my mom is just not into that kind of thing so for us it was special, and it makes me smile every time I see a photo of myself in that pretty striped dress.

• Heading back to Hawaii. I think it almost goes without saying that returning to Maui was a significant moment for me. As usual, Hawaii was insanely highlight filled. Surfing, scuba diving, submarine-riding, paragliding, volunteering — wow! But if you twisted my arm to choose a true favorite, it would be exploring Upcountry Maui, probably the island’s most under-appreciated region. Bonus? Getting to do it with my fellow #seeMaui bloggers, a true dream team that I adored traveling with.

• A gratifying moment. When my helicopter tour was cancelled on Maui, I used the free time to visit my old friends at the Banana Bungalow. There I was able to meet Caitlin, a long time reader who had first emailed me over a year ago to tell me my Maui posts had inspired her to change her Southeast Asia trip itinerary to include a stopover at the Bungalow. A year later, and she hadn’t left Hawaii! It was really moving to hear someone tell me that what an impact this site had on their life.

• Serious aloha. My final five days in Hawaii were spent with dear friends Wim and Dave. I first met these two when they were freshly dating in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve been lucky to watch them get married in Philadelphia, tag along for part of their honeymoon in Thailand, visit them right after their big move back to Hawaii, and now return as they’re fully settled with a brand new house and two big dogs! Wim is the ultimate host and I absolutely loved kayaking, hiking, and beach bumming around the island with her.

Happy Days at HomeHappy times at home

• Playing host. When I returned to Albany from Hawaii, all I wanted to do was glue myself to my laptop and not let go. But when two of my favorite expat friends from Thailand needed a vacation from their North American vacation, my mom happily agreed to have them crash with us in Albany for a while. There were late night ice cream runs, epic backyard BBQs, baseball games with Tucker in tow, and an enthusiastic attempt at pub quiz. I never quite expected my worlds to collide in that way — but it couldn’t have been better.

• Being invited to host a webinar with Travel Blog Success. I remember when I first excitedly signed up for the course, so it was quite an honor to be asked. As with any speaking engagement I signed off fraught with anxiety about how I did and not feeling like I said anything of worth, but it is amazingly gratifying to be recognized by your peers regardless.

• My girls weekend in Martha’s Vineyard. We try to do a trip together every year, and this time I was excited to host in a place that is truly starting to feel like home. I had been running myself ragged and our chilled out long weekend was exactly what I needed. Gossip-filled dinners, Tucker-chaperoned beach days, non-stop giggle sesssions — I loved every minute!

• Celebrating my 3 year travelversary. To be honest, I was a stressed-out mess the week of this milestone, and I actually ended the day having a super cathartic cry. But it’s still an impressive feat, and keeping myself afloat and on the road for 1,095 days is something I’m proud of.

• Spending Father’s Day with my dad — and my three sisters! The five of us hadn’t been all together for six years, and we celebrated with a bang of a reunion.

• Slipping back into Brooklyn. My final week in NYC was mostly my favorite kind of low-key — DIY dinner on the roof of a friends’ Brooklyn building, attending a bizarre outer borough comedy show, tagging along on one pal’s new puppy’s first walk through Manhattan, day drinking at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade — the usual. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good the way I emotionally cling to my old life here (example: it pains me to type the words old life) but it’s still one of my favorite places on the planet filled with a fair number of the greatest people who live on it.

• My bittersweet final week in Albany. I made it to my best friend’s farewell drinks as she moves down to the big city (trips back Upstate won’t be the same without her), discovered the Troy Farmer’s Market with another high school friend, and spent a fair amount of quality time on the couch with mom. Nothing recharges me like sunny days in the place that made me.

• A new computer. Finally, finally, I was able to replace the machine that was causing me so much constant grief. My new top of the line Macbook Pro with Retina Display is all kinds of awesome and it’s amazing what a difference not having to spend ten minutes out of every hour waiting for Photoshop to render makes in my workflow. It was a huge investment but luckily I was able to sell the old one for a decent price, which offset the cost a bit.

• So much family time. I always say that my favorite thing about this lifestyle is not the travel but the freedom. A long weekend in Philly for Father’s Day? I’m there. A whole week in Martha’s Vineyard with my mom’s side of the crew? Count me in! I get to spend more time with my parents than some of my friends who live a mere state away from them, and I never forget to be thankful for that.

• Celebrating my first July 4th in six years. Being home for the holiday inspired me to pen a patriotic post, and I loved the time being silly and creative with some of my nearest and dearest. I’ve come to realize that my family rocks at holidays and traditions, and there’s no one I’d rather spend special days with!

• Victory! Remember my massive battle with Citibank? I won! Thanks to a commenter who recommended it, I filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I figured the ship had sailed for me and my points but I still wanted Citibank to be held responsible. I couldn’t have been happier or more surprised when the verdict swung my way and the points appeared in my account. Thank you, CFPB, for being a government agency that actually looks out for the little guys — you made me feel a lot better about the tax money I handed over this year.

• A fun thrill -- my sister was recognized by an Alex in Wanderland reader! She was giddy when she called to recount being approached in a bar by a blog fan who placed her from her regular appearances here. I was hoping the person might leave a comment or reach out but they never did. Mystery NOLA reader — hi!

Hawaii Travel RoundupHawaii

Lowlights and Lessons

• Gun shy. I had a feeling that visiting a shooting range in Las Vegas would be uncomfortable for me because of my beliefs about gun control, but I pushed myself to try it anyway and ended up feeling both conflicted about the experience and awkward about how I would cover it here, as I had been a guest of the Nevada Tourism Board. Of course I recounted it in a way that felt honest and true, as always, and to my great relief my trip hosts were both understanding and appreciative of that honesty. While I do believe there is great value in having an open mind, I should remember there is also merit in speaking up when I know something doesn’t align with my values.

• Press stress. I’m still new to the press trip game and doing two pretty much back to back was a serious crash course for me. I found that I was fairly unprepared for traveling in this manner — though it sounds silly now, I didn’t take into account that I would be scheduled from sunup to sundown and wouldn’t have the downtime that I normally build into my independent travel schedule for work breaks, social media updates, even basic email checks. I found myself frazzled by trying to cram in work that needed to have been done ahead of time, and feeling embarrassingly inadequate about my real time trip coverage next to the social media whizzes I was on the road with. In the future, should I join another press trip, I need to remember that the commitment lasts long before and after the start and end dates of the itinerary, and plan accordingly in order to be fair to both myself and to my lovely hosts.

Saying goodbye. Leaving Tucker in Philadelphia hit me hard. He had been my constant companion for about two months and I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye. The only thing that makes the situation bearable is knowing that my Dad is Tucker’s favorite human on Earth, and that dog is so beloved and beautifully happy in his life in Philadelphia. Still, I miss him something fierce.

• Family drama. If this isn’t the definition of #firstworldproblems, I don’t know what is, but my mom and sister and I have had some growing pains learning how to negotiate the blessing of our new old cottage in Martha’s Vineyard. We’ve had drama that escalated to ridiculous levels over double booking the house for the same weekend, tensions over juggling car ferry reservations, and bruised feelings over design decisions. The good news is I know those are all just minor bumps along a road that is already leading us to so many beautiful memories. Mostly, I included this because I realize that I often put out the image of myself as having a family so perfect we might just break into musical song at any moment, but as with any family the reality is messier. Most of it I can’t write about it, but when possible I like to keep it real with a big reminder that we are no von Trapps.

• Fizzled fireworks. While this seems frivolous to type in retrospect since I was over it pretty quickly, I was devastated in the moment when I realized that this stupid day I’d planned my entire Europe trip around was being rained out. Not cool, summer storms, not cool.

• Scammed. Guys, I was Craigslist scammed! In the end I was only out about $90, which in the grand scheme of all the money I’ve lost this year is nothing, but the hit still stung. I think it was my pride more than anything else because I did the thing you are never supposed to do and mailed something before I had payment — but in my defense the man I spoke to on the phone sounded like a sweet old grandpa! So yes, the real truth is I was Craiglist scammed by a senior citizen. The end.

• Backpack blues. Packing just never gets easier, does it? Once again, preparing to take off on a multi-month, two-continent world tour reduced me to a sleep deprived, maniacal little travel monster.

• Pre-travel panic. When I landed back in the US, I had a long list of things I was confident I could accomplish before departing. Four and a half months later, not so much. I left feeling a bit bummed — and a lot frazzled and frustrated — that so many major items were left unticked off my to-do list as I was taking off for such a hectic period of travel. I’ve always lived by the mantra, “If you’re not in control, you’re not moving fast enough,” but man, I really do wonder what it would feel like to be in control sometimes.

• Doctor drama. Days before I left for Las Vegas, and just seven months after I had the last one surgically removed, my doctor found another fibroadenoma during a routine physical. More details below, but yeah, that one moment ended up shaping a lot of my emotional state over this period as I was wracked with stress over what was happening to my body and how to juggle my travel schedule and the health care system in order to treat it.

Martha's Vineyard Travel RoundupMartha’s Vineyard with the girls

LOLs

Several hilarious moments, including a few Forgetting Sarah Marshall-esque ones, defined the Hawaii trip for me.

The bellboy, dropping off my luggage in my room and confused by my solo status: So, is your family meeting you here or…?

Our biking tour guide, gently moving me aside as I tried to jump in yet another photo with Chris and Tawny: Actually, let’s do these as couple photos instead…

Tawny, to our tour guide at the Surfing Goat Dairy: Do they bite? [Moments later, as finger is mid-chomp] “OW!”

A conversation about the perils of working from home with my fabulous friend Scott had me in stitches.

Me: I’m so jealous when I see the girls leave for work in the morning! They look so adorable, and I’m in my pajamas all day.
Scott: [Pulls a face.] No one is stopping you from wearing lingerie!

Budget

I spent $3,964 during this period, which averages to $1,982 per month. Not awesome but not terrible considering the amount of stocking up I did for my upcoming trip.

Thanks to all that supply buying, the miscellaneous category clocked in at a whopping $1,206, or $596 per month! In addition to the pre-travel purchases, that enormous figure included gifts for moms, dad, and newlyweds, and to my great frustration, both a speeding and a parking ticket. Another big one was, unsurprisingly, food, which ate up (har, har) $1,152, or $576 per month out of my budget.

Next up was $494, or $247 per month in business expenses, including hosting fees and developer services, inflight wifi, my Global Entry application fee, mailing giveaway items, and more. Entertainment weighed in at $398, or $199 per month, and basically consisted of nights out with friends as well as a few activities in Hawaii. Transport totaled $326, or $163 per month, and was made up of gas tank fills, cab rides, metro cards, train tickets, and ferry fees.

New category health and fitness snuck in at $130, or $75 per month and was made up of doctor co-pays and gym passes, while my usual charity slot was filled for $100, or $50 per month.  Spa and salon, made up entirely and embarrassingly of nail appointments, topped $112, or $56 per month, while accommodation was a mere $70, or $35 per month — my share of a one night hotel stay for a wedding.

Philadelphia Travel RoundupPhiladelphia

Work

After three very terrifying months, things finally started to pick up in time for Month 36. I netted small profits both months, a huge relief as I prepared to take off on a very expensive Eurotrip that I needed to be saving for. That said, I struggled with finding a balance between my work and travel commitments and started to take a serious look at how I can better plan my time in the future.

Panic over the stability of my income defined this trip home for me, and I took action by enrolling in free small business mentoring with SCORE. This wonderful — and, again, free — program pairs entrepreneurs and small business owners with retired CEOs in their fields, who provide counseling on whatever ails ya. I met with a pair of counselors who were lovely but eventually clicked with a mentor from the NYC office who is willing to meet with me over Skype. I found this program invaluable and will continue to keep tapping it as a resource — I can’t recommend it more highly!

NYC Travel RoundupNew York City

Health and Fitness

As mentioned above, I was pretty bummed by my general practitioner’s discovery of another fibroadenoma in my breast less than a year after having the first surgically removed. While the lump itself is actually fairly harmless, negotiating the health care system is another story. This two month period was a whirlwind of hard-won appointments, opposing opinions and stomach-wrenching stress as I tried to juggle which practitioner’s advice to heed — the radiologist who passionately insisted I have the surgery immediately, before I leave for Europe, or the gynecologist who advised me to hold off indefinitely as multiple surgeries could eventually lead to breast disfigurement? After eight weeks of attempts to get in for a consult with my surgeon I finally saw her with ten days to spare until my departure from the country, having been penciled in for surgery the next day by her handlers. To my enormous relief, she conceded that I could wait until I returned to the US in November to go under the knife, and I was spared from having to board a plane to London bruised from week-old surgical wounds. Needless to say, the whole thing wasn’t exactly a highlight. While it isn’t at all travel related, I’m hoping to eventually write a post about my experience with fibroadenomas for others going through the same.

That drama aside, I continued with my campaign to get back in shape after Latin America wreaked havoc on my body. While two press trips and my final ice cream-filled week in Martha’s Vineyard challenged that, for the most part I did a decent job of staying on track with the help of a nutritionist and my health-focused mama.

What’s Next

Six weeks in Europe — here we come!

Martha's Vineyard Travel RoundupMartha’s Vineyard with the fam

Thanks for following along with my adventures closer to home. Now, onto some far flung versions!

Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.

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Independence Day on the Vineyard http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/12/july-4th-marthas-vineyard/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/12/july-4th-marthas-vineyard/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29486 Cambodia, The Cayman Islands, Spain, England, Indonesia. Those are the countries in which I spent the last five July 4ths. As you might imagine, none of them celebrated with the fireworks, BBQs, and red white and blue fanfare of my childhood. So when my summer started to shape up, I was determined to make sure I spent the Fourth of July stateside. For the first time in six years, this patriotic girl was going to celebrate Independence Day.

Martha's Vineyard Independence Day

Independence Day Martha's Vineyard

And I was going to celebrate big — in the midst of a Martha’s Vineyard family reunion. The setting could not have been more idyllic. My mom had celebrated on island last summer and described it as “July 4th in a Norman Rockwell painting.” I couldn’t wait to lap up all the adorable I could this time around.

Though massive storms were looming and the entire East Coast was preparing for the worst, the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association — the historic neighborhood our cottage belongs to — bravely moved ahead with their annual red white and blue children’s parade.

Martha's Vineyard CampgroundMartha's Vineyard Independence Day

The entire neighborhood turned out to support the marching munchkins and their sidekicks, including an enthusiastic brass band and several patriotic pups.

Independence Day Martha's Vineyard

July 4th Campground Parade Oak Bluffs

Independence Day Martha's Vineyard

July 4th on Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard July 4th Parade

Some of the costumes seriously impressed me — tell me these kiddos aren’t future stars of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade! Nice work, Martha’s Vineyard families.

July 4th Campground Parade Oak Bluffs

Martha's Vineyard Independence Day

Though our outfits were thrown together rather than painstakingly planned, I’d like to think we didn’t have too shabby a showing. In fact, my Statue of Liberty crown, a remnant from a costume of Halloweens past, basically made me the envy of every five year old girl on that island.

Martha's Vineyard July 4th

The parade’s timing was impeccable. The rain started not long after, and when it did, it was a downpour. While I was still devastated by the news from the prior evening that both the neighborhood block party and the island fireworks were postponed due to weather until after I’d leave the island, at least I knew the decision was justified. (Did that stop me from crying in my mom’s arms like a little girl who just found out she wasn’t getting a pony for her birthday? No, it did not. I waited six years and planned my European summer around this, I wanted fireworks damnit!)

Thankfully, this family had a rainy day contingency plan. Cupcake wars.

Cupcake Decorating Contest

Cupcake Decorating ContestForgive the iPhone photos — my dSLR was not welcome at this icing-fueled party!

During our annual visits to the Vineyard throughout my childhood, my family engaged in extremely competitive, creativity-and-sugar fueled cupcake decorating contests. They were so epic they inspired a local artist’s series of cupcake paintings, a full decade or two before cupcakes were the new black (and before Pinterest, too!) I only wish I was in Albany to go through the old family albums and scan a few of our more fiercely fought years. But for now, I’ll just have to regale you with the 2014 edition…

Cupcake Decorating Contest

It was the perfect afternoon activity with equal doses of ruthlessness, innovation, and cursing the fact that the rain was preventing us from running down the road to buy [insert obscure random but necessary item here]. While first time participants Kirsten, Oliver, and Miller kindly humored us, it was clear that my mom, sister, and I were the ones possessed by the need to create elaborately decorated baked goods.

After we finished, we invited the neighbors over to judge with an intricate voting system of placing goldfish in front of their favorite cupcakes. I’m not going to tell you who won, because I’m curious to hear what you all think!

My entries were, not surprisingly, nautical by nature.

Ocean Inspired Cupcakes

Ocean Inspired Cupcakes

My mom, still enamored with the island she can now call home, went with a detailed (and battery powered!) Vineyard theme.

Martha's Vineyard Inspired Cupcakes

Martha's Vineyard Inspired Cupcakes

My sister leaned patriotic in honor of the day we were celebrating.

America Inspired Cupcakes

America Inspired Cupcakes

Oliver, bless him, struggled to understand the concept of a decorating only baking contest and kept trying to incorporate flavors like bacon and chili pepper. Finally he succumbed to our pressure and made a pig face. A for effort, Ollie.

Cupcake Contest

Cupcake Contest

Kirsten showed her colors as an elementary teacher with her adorable family-friendly entry.

Cupcake Contest

Cupcake Contest

Miller made an impressive show of island-inspired engineering, constructing a tentacled jellyfish and most impressively, a Jaws-cake. He earned a serious slow clap from me for the Jaws nod (the movie was set and filmed on Martha’s Vineyard!)

Cupcake Contest

Cupcake Contest

Jaws Inspired Cupcake
Inspired by Miller’s creation, we decided our evening activity would be a Jaws-athon. But it wasn’t quite time to curl up on the couch yet. No! There were backgammon tournaments to be played (or, as Olivia coined it, the Baackgammon Invitational), yoga poses to be adjusted (Kirsten is a newly certified instructor — cousin power!), puzzles to be puzzled, and patriotic cookie cakes to be devoured.

Backgammon Marathon

Yoga Poses

Flag Cookie Cake

With all that excitement, it was no wonder the evening ended like it did — a three cousin pileup, parked in front of Jaws 2.

Three Cousin Pileup

While I was admittedly pretty bummed about the damper the weather put on our July Fourth plans, it turned out to be a pretty perfect day. The more I travel, the more I appreciate the time I have with my family and in familiar places. As I flew away from the island the next afternoon on my way to my next international adventure, I knew that I couldn’t have asked for a better goodbye to the good ‘ol USA, and all my wonderful people in it.

Martha's Vineyard by Air

Martha's Vineyard by Air

Till next time, Martha’s Vineyard… (and America!) US readers, what did you do for the Fourth of July?

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Photo of the Week 165: Greece http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/11/photo-of-the-week-165-greece/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/11/photo-of-the-week-165-greece/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 17:05:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29484 Greetings from Greece — again! I can’t tell you how happy I am to be reporting from the same country for two weeks in a row. Not that that’s any indication I’ve slowed down. Life is once again reaching category ten levels of chaos as I try to fit in too much work, too much play, and absolutely zero sleep. But with only two weeks left in Europe, and plenty of catch-up time in Thailand ahead, I’m trying my best to live by the all too appropriate tagline of the tour I’m currently on — #noregrets!

Contiki’s Greek Island Hopping is treating me well. We kicked off our tour in a seaside suburb of Athens before bee-lining for the beaches (and parties!) of Mykonos. Currently we’re en route to Santorini, an island I am thrilled to be returning to for the third time.

This week will be an exciting one around Wanderland — I’ll be kicking off my European trip coverage! I can’t wait to start oversharing. Until then, here’s another preview of what’s ahead…

Photo A
The Beach, Athens, GreeceStealing some sun time in Athens

Photo B
Plaka, Athens, GreeceA lively evening in the Plaka of Athens

Photo C
Octopus Drying, Mykonos, GreeceI can’t seem to keep away from octopus lately

Photo D
Little Venice, Mykonos, GreeceSunset on “Little Venice” on Mykonos

Photo E
Mykonos, GreeceCharming Chora town

Photo F
Mykonos, GreeceMy favorite new friend from Mykonos!

Which photo is your favorite?

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A Family Time Farewell to Martha’s Vineyard http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/10/family-time-marthas-vineyard/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/10/family-time-marthas-vineyard/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29485 My time in the US was quickly coming to a close. After four and a half months stateside, it was time time hit the road once again. But first, I needed one last hit of family time to tide me over for the long stretch of travel ahead. So for my final week in the country, I made my way back to Martha’s Vineyard for some quality bonding with a star studded cast — my mom and her man, my sis and her guy, and my beloved cousin Kirsten, who flew in from Chicago.

Martha's Vineyard Sailing Trip

Overall, it was a blissfully relaxed week with plenty of time for long lunches, yoga classes, runs and walks out to the nearby lighthouse, and generally enjoying each others’ company. Kirsten and Olivia’s boyfriend Oliver were Martha’s Vineyard newbies, and as always, we delighted in showing them around the island we’re still so excited to be calling our new home.

Martha's Vineyard Lighthouse

Martha's Vineyard Summer

Oak Bluffs Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard Shopping

Martha's Vineyard Alley's General Store

Martha's Vineyard Lighthouse

So what kept us busy? The bad news was the weather was quite iffy throughout the week, leaving our beach time fairly limited. The good news was, we had a laid back crew more than happy to make the most of it. As usual, we were regulars at State Beach, where Olivia and Oliver had a clear difference of opinion regarding whether or not the temperature was bathing suit appropriate.

Martha's Vineyard Beach Time

But on one special day, when our family friend Ashley and her boyfriend J came to visit from their place on Cape Cod, my mom showed us a new favorite stretch of sand: Great Rock Bight Preserve. With limited parking and a long, steep walk down to the beach, it’s quite the hidden gem. While we had a particularly cloudy day, Olivia and I braved the cold waters to swim out to the famous rock in the distance for bragging rights and a spot of sister bonding time. I love discovering new corners of the Vineyard and this is one nook I’ll absolutely be returning to — assuming we can snag one of the parking spots.

Martha's Vineyard Beach Time

Martha's Vineyard Beach Time

Martha's Vineyard Beach Time

When storms kept us inside, we amused ourselves indoors with a bit of backgammon and competitive puzzling.

Puzzle Time

Puzzle Time

And, of course, we ate. We’ve had a long run of racking up new favorite Vineyard eateries with tons of hits and very few misses, but this time we added two the list of places we weren’t impressed with. Sand Bar and Grille in Oak Bluffs and The Shanty in Edgartown were both too mediocre to ever warrant a return meal, though we all agreed we’d return to either for an atmospheric drink or two.

Sand Bar and Grill

Sand Bar and Grill

One clear winner, as usual? Sharky’s Cantina! Oliver happens to be a bit of a food snob and Olivia reveled in telling me that he had turned his nose up at my favorite Mexican joint when they walked by before my arrival. And I reveled equally as he ate his words alongside with his monster-sized taco salad. Sharky’s Cantina: turning skeptics into believers since the advent of free guacamole refills.

Sharky's Cantina Martha's Vineyard

Sharky's Cantina Martha's Vineyard

And a week in Martha’s Vineyard wouldn’t be a week in Martha’s Vineyard without nightly ice cream runs (and blurry selfies to wash them down.)

Martha's Vineyard Ice Cream

The highlight of the week, however, was a unanimous hit. One evening, we decided to splurge on a private party of epic proportions, a sunset sail with Witch of Endor. The beautiful former Taiwanese fishing vessel was under the lovingly helmed by Captain Pascal, who handled our boisterous crew with a smile.

Martha's Vineyard Sailing Charter

A Witch Of Endor Sailing Charters

A Witch Of Endor Sailing Charters

Our group of eight (Ashley and J stuck around for this adventure!) came prepared with a cooler full of drinks in order to properly toast the sunset. We had serious balance practice juggling our drinks as the boat listed in the wind and we ran around the boat snapping photos and pointing out various landmarks we identified along the shore.

A Witch Of Endor Sailing Charters

Martha's Vineyard Sunset Sail

Martha's Vineyard Sailing Charter

There were lots of laughs all around.

Martha's Vineyard Sunset Sail

Martha's Vineyard Sunset Sail

Martha's Vineyard Sailing Charter

It was the perfect evening with so many lovely details — Captain Pascal giving J a spin behind the wheel, the delicious platter of gourmet treats we completely devoured, and a bit of lighthearted family teasing.

Martha's Vineyard Sailing Charter

Martha's Vineyard Sunset Sail

Martha's Vineyard Sunset Sail

Martha's Vineyard Sunset Sail

All too soon, the sun dipped below the horizon, and we headed back to shore.

Martha's Vineyard Sailing Charter

Martha's Vineyard Sunset

I can’t recommend a trip with Witch of Endor more highly. Split among our group of eight, it was a reasonable price to pay for such a special experience (two hour sails start at $350) and the fact that we were able to bring along our own booze made it into quite the party. In fact, we decided to keep the energy up as soon as we arrived back at the house.

Martha's Vineyard Evenings

While the grown ups called it a night after a round of shots, the kids headed out on the town. Well, as much of a town as there is on weeknight on a small island not quite yet into peak summer season. We started with cocktails at the new outpost of Beetlebung in Oak Bluffs, a chic new lounge addition to the local nightlife scene.

Martha's Vineyard Nightlife

Martha's Vineyard Nightlife

Martha's Vineyard Nightlife

After a swing by the Lampost, we realized that we were in a tight spot: we were starving, and considering the late hour, island eateries were shut down tight. Olivia refused to accept defeat though, and grabbed Kirsten for a tipsy mission to scour snacks. We dissolved into hysterics when not fifteen minutes later she came running up Circuit Avenue, pizza boxes in hand, triumphant whoops all around. Turns out she had caught a friendly local pizza chef closing down the kitchen for the night, and via some impressive miming through the glass door she managed to convey the depth of both her hunger desperation and their shared love for pizza.

He handed over the last pies of the night free of charge, and even posed for what I’d call the clear winner of Best Selfie of the Summer.

Martha's Vineyard Nightlife

It was a beautiful week indeed. But the best is yet to come — my first stateside Independence Day in six years! Stay tuned…

Have you managed to squeeze in plenty of family time this summer? What have you and yours been up to?

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

Please Note: We received a small media discount from Witch of Endor Sailing in order to write this review. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of any discounts of comps.

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Cheers to That: A Review of the Drinkadvisor App http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/08/drinkadvisor-app-review/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/08/drinkadvisor-app-review/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 16:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29750 Long time readers know — I love me some nightlife. I think going out and experiencing the bars, clubs, and cocktails of a new destination can be an integral part of the travel experience. So when the team over at Drinkadvisor, the world’s number one free nightlife app, asked me to take it for a spin on a night out in Athens, Greece? I bravely responded that I would accept. For science. And the blog. Ah, the things I do for this blog.

Six Dogs Bar AthensSerious research at Six D.O.G.S Bar in Athens

Features

Drinkadvisor has nightlife listings for over 200 cities. From our rental apartment in the heart of Athens, I scrolled through over a dozen options available to us on a randomly chosen Tuesday night, arranged by proximity to where we were sitting. Tapping the names that caught my eye, I could read through a thorough listing including a brief review, a few photos, a map and address, and a user-reviewed rating.

From our various options we ended up heading to two — Six D.O.G.S, an underground garden that we literally would have walked right by had we not known it existed, and A for Athens, a beautiful rooftop lounge overlooking the Acropolis all lit up in the beautiful night. Both were fabulous finds that we never would have stumbled upon ourselves, nor found in my out-of-date guidebook.

Drinkadvisor App

Another feature that could come in handy are the cocktail listings. If you’ve ever been embarrassed to ask the bartender at a swank spot what the heck is exactly in a Pimm’s Cup anyway, a few discreet taps will tell you you’re about to get your gin on. Other features include up-to-date nightlife news under the Review section, and facts and information about your favorite types of liquors under the Drinks section.

A handy feature for international travelers who might not have data in their phones is that you can store information for offline use under Favourites. One thing that could make this feature even handier? Integrating the favorites section with the smartphone’s offline map capabilities, so you could see how close you are to your bar of choice even away from wifi.

Design

Drinkadvisor has a sleek and modern interface and intuitive navigation. It’s clear they invested some cash in a great designer — and that makes it easy to trust them when they label a bar as stylish! It’s the little things in life that make me smile, and Drinkadvisor has what might just be my favorite app logo of all time.

Price

Drinkadvisor is totally free — if only my bar tabs were so cheap!

Drinkadvisor App

Room for Improvement

We ran into one major snafu on our night of research. Because we were traveling internationally and don’t have data on our phones, my research assistant Heather and I took screenshots of the map pages of the various bars we wanted to visit. Due to a bug that I reported to the developers and that they are currently in the process of fixing, three different bars we tried to visit were not labeled correctly on the maps, which sent us on a serious scavenger hunt.

When we were back at wifi we realized that the addresses of those bars were listed correctly — unfortunately they were just misplaced on the map, and that’s what we were trying to navigate from. So while I feel confident the developers will fix the bug (and they assured me this was the first time they’d heard of it), if you are barhopping without internet, you might want to navigate from the addresses and not the maps just to be sure.

Conclusion

Drinkadvisor is the perfect app for traveling partiers who want to experience the nightlife in a new city but don’t have any pulse on what’s available nearby. And even in your own city or one you are a regular around, it’s nice to be nudged to try something new. While the bug we encountered was a bummer I still love the concept of this app and will absolutely be checking out what kind of new watering holes are around in my future travels.

I mean, how could I not love an app that brought me to a cocktail bar with views like these? Cheers, Drinkadvisor!

A for Athens BarSipping with front row seats to the Parthenon at A is for Athens bar

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

Download Drinkadvisor on your Android and on your iPhone. I was compensated for my time in reviewing this app.

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The 2014 Coney Island Mermaid Parade http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/07/mermaid-parade-2/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/07/mermaid-parade-2/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:15:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29483 One of the highlights of last summer for me was finally attending the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, an event that had eluded and intrigued me for years. As my 2014 summer started to shape up, there was one thing I knew for sure: I’d be in Brooklyn on June 21st.

Mermaid Parade NYC

Mermaid Parade NYC

After my hastily thrown together costume my inaugural year, I vowed to come back with a bang this time around. Unfortunately that was a promise to myself I didn’t keep. Though I had almost a full week in Brooklyn after leaving Philadelphia, life got in the way and I barely had time to round up two partners-in-crime in time to make my way to Coney Island.

But partners-in-crime they were. Amanda, pictured top left, is a longtime reader who has become a friend since her move to the East Coast, and Will is one of my dear friends from Thailand who happened to be visiting the US on this glorious weekend.

Mermaid Parade NYC

Mermaid Parade 2014

Last year, I’d actually walked in the parade, which was an experience that would be hard to beat. However, I’d grown overwhelmed and skipped out just as the parade hit the scenic boardwalk — first it snakes along Surf Ave, which is less crowded but also less picturesque. So in the name of new experiences (and close proximity to establishments selling alcoholic slushies) we chose to elbow our way up to the barriers along the boardwalk.

We were in for a serious treat.

Mermaid Parade NYCHolla to my hometown! 518 is Albany’s area code.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

One of my favorite unexpected surprises was recognizing certain characters from last year! Octopus lady, above? She was the duct tape mermaid of 2013! The adorable family below? They were a Dr. Seuss inspired Red Fish, Blue Fish crew!

And as you can tell, the nautical theme is a loosely-adhered to one. Costumes of any kind are welcome — though this aqua-holic thinks the sea related ones are the most fun.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

The Mermaid Parade is for anyone. From little girls to grannies, everyone gets in on the fun. I love thinking of the quality time the families that participate must have had dreaming up and bringing to life their floats and outfits.

Kids at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Kids at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade

One thing is undeniable: everyone who comes to Coney Island to celebrate the start of summer solstice is looking to have a raring good time. I don’t know if it was the sun in the sky, the creativity in the air, or the cocktails in our hands, but everywhere I looked there were people laughing and smiling.

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade 2014

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade NYC

One really fun result of my post covering last year’s parade was that I received a few emails from parade participants who saw my photos of them and asked for copies — which a happily obliged. Now, I’m not going to lie. I really hope that happens again this year, specifically with this group of kick ass ladies below. They absolutely rocked it with their shiny little dance routine and their high-energy high-fives, and I won’t deny that I found myself dreaming of joining their spunky crew. Girl crushing was in full effect. Metallic mamas, are you accepting inquiries for new friendships? MY APPLICATION IS READY.

Mermaid Parade 2014

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade NYC

You go girls!

Mermaid Parade 2014

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade NYC

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Not that we were having too shabby a time in the crowd. Will, inspired by the liberal nudity taking place in the parade, stripped down to his speedos — and, inexplicably, a nacho libre mask. This development was extremely well received by our parade-watching neighbors, who lined up to snap photos with the superhero.

Mermaid Parade NYC

And lest we go hungry, there were a million dining options at close hand. While we devoured tacos from Place to Beach, Nathan’s hotdogs was also a classic temptation. Amanda succumbed to a nearby churro vendor, but then apparently felt shy about her purchase.

Nathan's Hot Dogs NYC

Mermaid Parade

Every time we thought the last round of magical mermaids had passed, there were a few more around the bend. Once again, I was inspired by the creativity and the efforts of my fellow New Yorkers (okay, I can’t quite call anywhere home right now, but I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart.)

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade 2014

Mermaid Parade 2014

Confession: we had been drinking fairly heavily at this point, and in the very unrelenting sun. And thus we came possessed with the idea of riding the Cyclone. From fumbling with the entry gate, to hearing Will cry “sexism!” at the guides who let girls on in their bikinis but not he on in his speedo, to screaming as the roller coaster went tearing around its rickety wooden tracks, I can’t remember the last time I laughed quite so hard.

Cyclone Coney Island

Cyclone Coney Island

Cyclone Coney Island

After the last mermaid strutted past, the parade dissolved into a full on boardwalk dance party — I’d expect nothing less. And so we bopped the day away in front of the ocean; celebrating summer, sea creatures, good art and great vibes.

Mermaid Parade Blog Post

Mermaid Parade Blog Post

Mermaid Parade Blog Post

Sea you next year, merpeople of New York!

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Photo of the Week 164: Greece http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/05/photo-week-164-greece/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/05/photo-week-164-greece/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 22:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29482 All I can say is thank goodness I have another two weeks in Greece, or there would be tears all over this keyboard. All the love I felt for this country on my brief but fabulous first visit has come flooding back, and if it weren’t for the euros that seem to magically fly out of my wallet on an hourly basis I might be considering a more permanent relocation.

Heather and I flew from Brussels to Athens in a fairly delicate state post-Tomorrowland, and found Santorini was the perfect place to heal. We took refuge in an adorable apartment at Hara’s Houses and spent most of our five nights there scheming ways to never leave the perfect volcanic isle. While I wasn’t ready to go, Athens was a welcome sight and a strategic location choice for one final hurrah for Heather and I before she takes off for Germany.

Onto Photo of the Week!

Photo A
Kapari Restaurant, SantoriniDinner at the stunning Kapari Resort

Photo B
Traditional Sailing Boat, SantoriniReminders of Greece’s seafaring culture

Photo C
Greek FlagBleeding blue and white

Photo D
Wine Tasting in SantoriniWinery hopping with Viator

Photo E
Santorini DonkeysThe colors of Santorini

Photo F
Sunset at the AcropolisSunset at the Acropolis in Athens

Which photo is your favorite?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

In other news, my friend Juno over at Runaway Juno is launching the second edition of her Asian Women Empowerment conference, and registration is now open! Like AWE ’13, AWE ’14 wants to empower modern Asian women to thrive through dreaming big. This year’s event will be held in Kota Kinabalu from October 31-November 2nd — check it out, wanderers and dreamers!

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Swinging Through America’s Oldest Zoo http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/04/the-philadelphia-zoo/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/04/the-philadelphia-zoo/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29754 Our Father’s Day reunion weekend in Philly ended with a trip to a classic family activity — a trip to the zoo.

And this zoo in particular is a historic destination as well. The Philadelphia Zoo is America’s first, having received a charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1859 and opening its gates fifteen years later in 1874 with over 600 animals. Today, the conservation and education centered zoo has more than 1,300 animals under its care.

The Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo

My oldest sister Sarah had to take off early to make the long drive back to Massachusetts in Sunday traffic, and so after a classic brunch of dad’s famous pancakes and a round of goodbyes, the remaining four of us made our way towards the wild side.

As with any family outing, much of it consisted of  ridiculous photo ops and borderline bad behavior.

Monkeys at The Philadelphia Zoo

Animals Walking Free at The Philadelphia Zoo

Gift Shopt at the Philadelphia Zoo

Recently I wrote a post about how my views on zoos and aquariums are evolving, it was interesting to visit this one through that lens. Even more interesting was to read, just a few weeks after our visit, a fascinating profile in The New York Times about a doctor who spends his days treating distressed zoo animals.

The New York Times article discusses the evolution of zoos and how it is happening slowly, so that while one section of a zoo might feel extremely forward-thinking, education-focused and appropriately complex and sized for the animal living in it, others might still be awaiting renovation and leave the visitor feeling squeamish by today’s standards.

The Philadelphia Zoo

Peacock at The Philadelphia Zoo

Overall, I found the Philadelphia Zoo very evolved, with a strong focus on education and conservation. A few times we joked it seemed the animals were literally running the place — peacocks strutted alongside guests, goats climbed a jungle gym that children were scampering on moments before, and above our heads excitable monkeys played and laid back panthers strutted by.

The latter is a product of Zoo360, a network of trails that allows animals to leave their homes and travel above and around the zoo grounds. Lemurs, monkeys and orangutans have their own trails, and since Spring 2014, as do the big cats. Expansions for the big cats and gorillas are on the docket for 2015, while in 2016 the zoo plans to link together the Great Plains exhibits so that giraffes, rhinos and zebras can rotate and time share their environments. This was one of the most original things I’ve seen in the zoos I’ve visited around the world — an interactive experience for visitors as well as a more stimulating and unrestricted environment for the animals.

Monkey at The Philadelphia Zoo

Goats at The Philadelphia Zoo

 

Big Cat Walk at The Philadelphia Zoo

In the Big Cat house, I browsed an interactive display about destructive palm oil harvesting and signed a petition — later at home I found myself researching the topic for the first time and thankful to the zoo for inspiring my interest in it. For younger visitors, a wall asking kids why it was important to protect big cats yielded hilarious results, my favorite response being a somber, “Big cats are my only friends.”

Big Cats at The Philadelphia Zoo

Big Cats at The Philadelphia Zoo

The Philly Zoo is also looking out for the health of its human visitors — we were amazed that in addition to the usual hot dog and ice cream stands, there was a healthy dining stand selling fruit and salads and touting “responsibly raised proteins”, and a gourmet taco truck doling out delicious meals.

Dining at The Philadelphia Zoo

Dining at The Philadelphia Zoo

As The New York Times story suggested, most US zoos are in state of flux, with some habitats lagging behind the others. In contrast to so many of the lush and sprawling enclosures outside, I found the primate house lacking and didn’t linger.

Monkeys at The Philadelphia Zoo

Monkeys at The Philadelphia Zoo

Monkeys at The Philadelphia Zoo

The traveler in me never quits. The more animals we saw, the more trips I found myself planning in my mind to visit them next on their own turf — to track gorillas in Rwanda, to photograph giant tortoises in the Galapagos, to walk alongside camels in the shadow the Egyptian pyramids. Talk about wanderlust!

The Philadelphia Zoo

Camels at The Philadelphia Zoo

Hippos at Otters at The Philadelphia Zoo

I don’t think I will ever be able to look at giraffes again without thinking of David Samuel’s description of them as “leggy blonde models who have been fed a month’s supply of Xanax.”

Giraffes at The Philadelphia Zoo

Zebras at The Philadelphia Zoo

Rhino at The Philadelphia Zoo

Yet as exotic as so many of the Philadelphia Zoo’s residents are, when we made our way to the exit naming our favorite animals, I found myself naming the otter without hesitation.

Otters at The Philadelphia Zoo

Otters at The Philadelphia Zoo

Otters at The Philadelphia Zoo

Otters at The Philadelphia Zoo

As someone who is admittedly ambivalent about zoos, I really enjoyed our family afternoon wandering around this one. My sniff test is, “Did I leave feeling mostly guilty and conflicted, or did I leave feeling mostly educated and uplifted?” This one fell firmly in the latter camp.

The Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo
The next morning, I said goodbye to Philadelphia and made my way back to my beloved NYC. Any suggestions on what I can’t miss next time I’m in The City of Brotherly Love?

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