The 7 Friends You End Up With on Every Road Trip

Aside from growing up in a city where there is almost always something to do, there was another huge benefit to living in New York. With the Northeast being as concise as it is, most states just require a weekend, and a decent car to be able to visit. Naturally, as soon as most of my friends were of driving age, it was impossible to stop us from venturing out to a new town whenever we had the opportunity. Eventually, our road trips extended slightly further down the East Coast. And while we have yet to take on any extensive cross-country trips, you get a good sense of each of your friends travel personas when you’re stuck in two cars during a fourteen hour drive to Myrtle Beach.

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Circa. 2013

The Co-Captain

This friend, found in the passengers seat, holds many important responsibilities including managing the GPS, having all necessary addresses readily available, and making close calls when it comes to turns on foreign roads. This role is essentially one of the most important, as the driver is too busy being a responsible driver and keeping his eyes on the road to be able to make any Apple Maps or GPS adjustments. Aside from making sure everyone gets to their final destination in a timely manner, the Co-Captain may also inadvertently become manager of the aux cord which is largely responsible for the theme of the drive.

The Hype Man

This friend doesn’t always offer much other than loud singing, non-stop talking, and narrating every sign that you drive passed. But what would a road trip be without that friend who shouts “cracker barrel!” every time you pass a rest stop?

The Nag

This the friend who you generally love, but who finds a way to grind everyone’s gears on a road trip; Generally by nitpicking the tiniest of details, and by having a problem with virtually everything. Like being the only one who doesn’t want to stop at that roadside diner, or wanting to specifically sit on that one side of the car for no other reason but preferring it. Luckily, if you grew up with siblings, it’s easy to tune out this friends negativity for a majority of the ride.

The Photographer

This is the friend who has no problem forcing the driver to pull over at the side of the road because “the angle of that distant mountain range looks beautiful from here” as if you’re not headed in that direction anyway. But who else would develop a full Facebook album of trip photos that the rest of the group could miserably look through while they’re back at work the next week?

The Ghost

This friend isn’t even there, in a figurative sense of course. This friend is not part of any of the conversations, bad singing, or rounds of “Don’t Get Me Started” during the ride because they are sleeping during the entire trip. But they do make occasionally appearances during food breaks, at rest stops, or during boarder crossings.

The Survivalist

This friend may be high in the rankings as everyone’s favorite friend to road trip with, due in part to the bag of the snacks and cooler of water bottles that enter the car along with them. In my group of friends, this friend is also the one who loves to drive the longest stretches, carries a flash light with two sets of extra batteries, and always has a pocket knife and a new box of matches. If I had to choose one person to be on my zombie apocalypse team, this would definitely be my first choice.

The Concierge

This friend has researched all the most popular sites and attractions in every town you’re passing through. And while you may not be particularly interested in visiting the “World’s Biggest Whatever”, this friend also has the names and Yelp rating for all the local food spots along the way.

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One of the most spectacular parts of traveling is meeting new people, but often some of the greatest people are the ones who were along for the ride. We’ve had our share of mishaps, from wrong directions, to spontaneous blizzards, to car sickness, but I still  can’t wait to be back on the road, in an overly packed car with my best friends, while jamming to “American Pie.”

 

 

 

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A First-Timer’s Guide to A Day at Old Orchard Beach

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, it should come as no surprise that a significant amount of my summer memories trace back to the Coney Island Boardwalk. Whether it was for a stroll and hot dog (or two) at the original Nathan’s, or a night of fireworks and back-to-back rides at Luna Park, there was always something memorable about a day at the boardwalk.

It’s those memories that are the reason I’ve always had a fondness for coastal boardwalk towns. So naturally, when we began planning our extended weekend to Maine, we knew we couldn’t leave Old Orchard Beach off of the itinerary.

Old Orchard Beach has gone through various transitions throughout it’s long history, at one point being home to a racetrack, the area of which was purchased in 1952; and even spent five years as the home to an Animal Fair. But many parts of it’s historic past still remain: Pier Fries has been feeding visitors for almost a century, and the Old Orchard Beach Pier has been a hangout for beachgoers since 1898!

Despite all of the activities to currently available to enjoy in the area and our limited time, we managed to have a pretty jam-packed day.

Get Down to the Beach Bright and Early

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I typically prepare for any trip including those shorter in length by researching all of the popular “where-to-go’s” and “what-to-see’s”; and remember virtually every “Must Visit Beaches in Maine” article having Old Orchard Beach pretty high in the rankings. Like most beaches, I’d suggest trying to arrive earlier in the morning to claim a spot and unwind before the noon crowds roll in.

What I enjoyed most about Old Orchard Beach is how it provides the best of both worlds: the liveliness and excitement you’d find at many popular pier-inclusive beaches, but also the relaxation and beauty of beaches like Myrtle Beach. And while there was a steady influx of visitors, we still never felt the beach was overcrowded or chaotic, making for a pretty relaxing morning.

Take a Walk Along Old Orchard Beach Pier

As expected, the pier was packed; but once you get passed the hoards of people Old Orchard Beach Pier is the ideal chill-out spot for people of all ages. Considering there is almost no way to avoid it, kids will definitely want to stop at Pier Pizza before heading down the Pier. Those looking for that summer kick-back atmosphere can head on over to Tequila Frogs for some Mexican Bulldog Margaritas. But if you’re just looking to get out of the sun for a minute and enjoy a relaxing meal, Hurricanes Raw Bar is definitely the spot.

While weekend beach vacations can be the ideal go-to for college students, I have always felt that these trips are perfect for families as they’re often affordable and generally don’t require too extensive of a drive if you’re living on the East Coast. Families can add Old Orchard onto their spring break idea list without fear of a bad time, because there truly is something for everyone.

Relive Your Childhood at Palace Playland

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Palace Playland, which boasts being New England’s only beachside amusement park, is exactly what you look for when it comes to coastal amusement parks: a wide variety of nostalgic rides, complete with a slight grittiness. As we walked up, the first ride that caught our attention was the Pirate, which you’ll generally find a variation of at most amusement parks or block parties, making it the perfect first stop for our nostalgic trail through Playland.

Considering the inflated per-ride prices at many of the places I used to frequent as a kid, we were amazed to find out that a Day Pass got you unlimited access to every ride in the park. Needless to say, we ended up staying at Playland a bit longer than we had originally anticipated but it was entirely worth it.

Play a Relaxing Round of Schooner Mini Golf

Schooner Mini Golf is about a five minute drive from Old Orchard Beach Pier, and is your typical 18-hole mini golf course..if that course was complete with a large replica Schooner! On this day there were only about two other groups on the course, which was ideal as it gave us the chance to take our time but also saved us from the occasionally extensive wait. Per usual, I ended up coming in second to last place, which I accepted with pride as I still managed to beat my usual score. Portland Schooner Mini Golf plays off its theme so well, and provides an array of holes that are actually pretty challenging, but the staff are also a big part of the great time you’ll have; they’re aren’t many places that have workers that leave you in a better mood after a quick two-minute conversation while purchasing tickets.

And don’t think you can leave Schooner Mini Golf without grabbing a Cookies’n’Cream shake for the road. I mean that literally, as you can’t exit without passing by their on-property ice cream window; but considering that it was around 92 degrees at the time, there wasn’t a better way to end of the evening.

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Our day at Old Orchard Beach was packed with excitement and still there are so many things we wish we had gotten the chance to do, like parasail passed the pier, enjoy the Thursday night downtown fireworks, or drop by the new Harmon Museum. But as always, it’s just an excuse to return.

But until then, we’re left with some great memories and a craving for some Pier fries.

 

*Quick Tip: Old Orchard Beach is a pretty popular spot, so parking was definitely a bit challenging. Come prepared to pay for parking and check out a list of local parking lots and their contact information here.

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6 Must-Have Experiences When Visiting Portland, Maine

Our quick, long-weekend trip to Maine was originally planned with the intent of checking off our last Northeastern state. But our one-and-a-half days spent exploring Portland ended up providing some of the best experiences, memories, and some of the most delicious eats.

       1. Take the Sunset Kayak Tour with Portland Paddle

Did you really visit Portland if you didn’t take part in the array of water activities available in the Casco Bay? After a quick overview on general kayak skills and safety instructions, we were in the water and ready for an hour and a half of adventure. Our guide was attentive, friendly, and knowledgable, providing us with information on the surrounding Casco Bay islands and pointing out a couple of Bald Eagles as they soared above us. Aside from the beautiful sunset, which ended up coming through as vivid as ever despite the clouds, my favorite part by far had to be when we carefully kayaked passed a small island covered in gulls and surrounded by seals. While we were instructed to not purposely paddle too closely to any wildlife, a few of the younger, more curious seals couldn’t help but swim up to a few kayakers in our group.

 I cannot recommend this tour enough, as I’m a sucker for sunsets and wildlife encounters, but Portland Paddle offers an array of other tours, including a Moonlight Kayak Tour and Lighthouse & Fort Full-Day Tour that I’m sure are equally as amazing! Since pictures rarely do anything justice, watch more clips of our kayak experience here.

 

2. Grab some donuts from the Holy Donut.

At this point, trying out popular foods fads has crossed over from an occasional overpriced hobby into a dedicated passion, so naturally I couldn’t visit Portland without  visiting their most publicized donut spot. But this donut shop is far from ordinary; selling donuts made from all-natural ingredients, including Maine potatoes. Yes, potatoes. Coming from someone who is typically not a fan of donuts whatsoever, I’m thankful I live six hours away because I would be here on a regular basis.

Of course, living so far from this gem meant I had to get in my share of flavors and so I ordered three different flavors even though one could easily feed two people. While the Blueberry Lemonade was the clear winner for me, the Coffee Cake Donut and Chocolate Sea Salt were nothing short of excellent. And if you’re worried about trying something out of your comfort zone, I did steal a bite of a friend’s maple bacon donut, which was out of this world!

 

3. Go sailing with Portland Schooner.

There is no better way to make the most of a hot day in Maine than by enjoying the breeze from an old-school Schooner as it sails down the Casco Bay. Portland Schooner is BYO, meaning you can bring your own lunch, beer, wine, etc. But be careful to hold onto your things when tilting from side to side; leaping to grab my backpack which was filled with all my camera gear, as it slowly slid towards the ledge was way more stress than I needed. Between the views, perfect weather, and “Come Sail Away” by the Styx playing in the background, this made for two of the most relaxing hours of our whole stay in Maine

 

4. Have a meal at the Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

Picture this. You’re sat along the rocky shore of Cape Elizabeth, with views of the waves as they break and Portland Head Light, the world’s most photographed lighthouse. Oh, and you’re eating the most affordable, yet fresh tasting seafood you’ve ever had. On first bite, I could already tell that my haddock had most likely been caught that same day and while I have had my share of outstanding seafood, this was beyond all expectations. Each “plate” at Lobster Shack is served with french fries, a biscuit, and a pickle-topped coleslaw. Easy to say I had a difficult time finishing, but of course when in Maine there is always room for blueberry pie. The blueberry mini pie at Lobster Shack is adorable and topped with a brown sugar, cinnamon crumble which pairs perfectly with the fresh blueberries. Forget Maine, this might be one of the best seafood spots I have ever eaten at.

 

5. Take in the view from the Portland Observatory.

Portland may not be the first city you think of in regards to scenic observation decks, but the Portland Observatory, which is definitely not a lighthouse, is a landmark worth visiting. For the last 210 years, the Portland Observatory has provided birds-eye views of Casco Bay and Portland Harbor, as well as a relaxing breeze during hot summer days.

 

6. Have breakfast at Three Sisters.

Three Sisters is actually in Biddeford, about 20 minutes outside of Portland, but if there was ever a breakfast spot worth going out of your way for, this is it. We learned rather quickly that Portland doesn’t have a substantial amount of breakfast spots, and after arriving at the uber-popular American Bayside Cafe only to be told there was a 50 minute wait, we decided to head to the first high-rated breakfast spot that we could find on Apple Maps. Besides being on the lower end price-wise, the dishes at Three Sisters were actually so good that we ended up going again the following day.

I wish I could’ve snapped a photo of my delicious Monte Cristo, which I ordered both days, but I ended up devouring the entire meal in about five minutes. If ham and Swiss sandwiched between two pieces of French toast, served with a raspberry jam and hash browns sounds as mouth watering to you as it did to me, this dish might be right up your alley.

 

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6 Must-Have Experiences in Portland, Maine | A Great Big Hunk of World

6 Life Lessons I Have Learned from 6 Different Countries

When it comes to traveling both abroad and domestically, it’s best to “leave a place better than you found it.” This comment is often made in regards to cleanliness, community service, supporting local businesses, or eco-tourism/sustainability efforts; and in my opinion, is one of the most important things a traveler should remember. After all, it is one thing to visit a place and another to respect it.

But there is another goal of equal importance, which is to “leave a place as a better person than when you arrived.” I have yet to visit a new place without leaving a little more enlightened or changed for the better, and I hope that continues to be a common theme throughout my travels.

The United States

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“Don’t take anything for granted and risk missing out on what is right in front of you.”

Being from New York, it’s very easy to fall into a mindset that you are living in the center of the universe. For the longest time my primary goal was traveling internationally as much as I possibly could. Fortunately, between spontaneous road trips and East Coast adventures, I have fallen in love with so many corners of my own country.

I remember a time when I swore I could live in no other state but New York, but then I spent a week in the mountains of Vermont. I used to think the most worthwhile part of the south was Florida, but then I spent a weekend exploring Savannah, Georgia and went on an eleven hour road trip to Myrtle Beach with six people squashed into an economy sized car. My must-visit list of places has only grown throughout the years, only now there are a few more spots from my own backyard.

France

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“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”  – Seneca

After overestimating both how much I needed to pack for Paris and my own strength, I decided to give up on my idea of taking the RER to Charles de Gaulle and request an Uber. My driver was hands-down one of the most accommodating drivers I had during my entire stay, offering water bottles, mints, and attempting conversation despite my super-broken French and his broken English. We went back and forth; him asking how I enjoyed Paris and where I was headed to next, and me asking how long he had lived here. But the part of our conversation that really made my stomach churn came when I asked where he was originally from.

“I’m from Lebanon, but it’s okay! I’m Christian, it’s okay!”

What bothered me the most about this proclamation was the series of could-be scenarios that played in my head; those of close-minded people who may have made a remark, or did something that made this man feel a need to ensure me or anyone of his religion. I wanted to tell him that he never had to explain himself, his origin, or his beliefs to anyone. I wanted to tell him about how awesome yet absurdly diverse my family was in terms of background and religion. Instead, I told him about a friend I had who was currently spending part of the summer visiting family in Lebanon, and how she had described how beautiful a country it was; this led to him excitedly telling me more about Lebanon with as much enthusiasm as when I talk about New York City to those who have never been there.

Nicaragua

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You may not have everything that you want but you have everything that you need.”

There are certain moments and places that not only make you and your problems feel minuscule, but also challenge the traditional “more is best” mindset. One of my favorite parts of my trip to Nicaragua was our time spent with families, community leaders, and activists who gave us insight on certain community issues, such as the lack of school supplies in low-economic schools, to controversial issues like the building of the Nicaraguan Canal.

What amazed me about a majority of the people we met was their level of generosity, not only in tangible items, but in time. Whether it was offering a mango, or a meal, wisdom, or a learning experience, there was no shortage even from those who may have felt they have less to offer. It is said commonly, but this trip was easily one of the most humbling experiences, and taught me that material goods don’t always lighten the burden on your shoulders but can often just make for a heavier load.

Ireland

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“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke

Being that a portion of my family background traces back to Ireland, I immediately felt a connection to the country. Our first full day was spent touring the Jeanie Johnston, one of the ships that brought approximately 2,500 emigrants to the New World during the mid-1800s; and exploring EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum of Dublin. While Dublin isn’t as small a city as many may think, we ended up having the same taxi driver, Patrick, three different times during our stay. We had a succession of great conversations with Patrick, but the most memorable was when he spoke about the first time he visited New York City during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He had the displeasure of overhearing a group of young Americans, who repeatedly bragged about their Irish roots, making derogatory terms towards other folks enjoying the parade.

“It almost seemed as if they thought they were more Irish than the Irish; But hearing them jeer at people the way we were once jeered at, you can tell they don’t know much about their history at all.”

Throughout history, we have seen great strides both socially and politically; but how often do we experience or read about an event, debate, or conflict that seems oddly similar to those of the past? While a group of close-minded kids may not seem like a significant enough problem to warrant fear , we cannot forget that those same kids will eventually be the adults whose actions could potentially have a negative effect on society.

Canada

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“Spread positivity everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” 

Being from New York, there can be a very noticeable shift in outward friendliness when visiting new places. This isn’t to say that New Yorkers aren’t kind and amiable, but it can often be overshadowed by our fast-paced walking and eyes set on the closest coffee spot.

Canada has always been synonymous with the term “friendly.” Obviously, one shouldn’t rely on stereotypes as “friendly” isn’t a characteristic exclusive to a country’s population; but in my experience across the border, Canada is home to some of the most casually kind people. Coming to intersections, we were almost always greeted by a smiling driver waving us to go on first, which is definitely not the type of road manners seen elsewhere. I have lost count of how many times a friend has responded to “How was your trip?” with “The people are so nice.” However, spending the holiday season in a place where many people greet you or smile when passing, or dining at a restaurant where the host tries to make actual conversation during a wait truly was an added benefit to our trip. There is something about beginning each day greeted by kindness, that set us on the right track for the rest of the day, and made us want to spread the positivity as well.

England

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“Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.” – Brene Brown

Being the Type-A traveler that I am, I generally have a pretty detailed day-to-day itinerary planned out months before I even leave for a trip. And still, the most memorable day of my time in London was the second half of our final day, where we toned down on our New York walking pace and strolled slowly along the River Thames without a final destination. By this point in our trip we had passed the Palace of Westminster at least a dozen times, even making numerous photography stops. But that afternoon, the sky was streaked in gold and the silhouette of the Elizabeth Tower looked more spectacular than it had our entire stay.

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In retrospect, none of these lessons are mind-blowing realizations; And I would like to believe many are ideals that most people hold. However, coming to a realization in the midst of a real-life situation can really put things into perspective and catapult you into actively making changes in your life. These changes may be life changing, or they may urge you to put a focus on something you already make an effort to do, like treating everybody with kindness and understanding.

There are a multitude of reasons why people travel; some are superficial, some people just want to be as far away from their cubicle as they possibly can. But others, myself included, travel to grow and to learn a bit more about ourselves as well as the world and people around us. It may just be a pipe dream, but I’d like to think that this new era of young people traveling more often will lead to the most open-minded, self-realized generation yet.

"I have yet to travel to a place that hasn't opened my eyes or changed me for the better." | A Great Big Hunk of World |

Why I’ll Never Be Too Old or Too Cool For Disney World

Less than 70 days until I go back to my roots, you guys.
You guessed it. I’m going to Disney World!

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Considering that the name of this blog was influenced by Disney, and that my homesickness for my second home will soon cease, I think it’s time I wrote a little about my die-hard Disney obsession.
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Before my passion for travel, there was Walt Disney World.

Before I ever considered traveling internationally as a legitimate possibility, there was Epcot’s World Showcase.

Before I ever imagined I’d hike paths around volcanoes, there was Animal Kingdom.

Before I became a ‘traveler’, I thought Walt Disney World was one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Now that I have had an array of life-changing experiences, I still think that Walt Disney World is one of the most spectacular places in the world.

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FYI, not the cute one in the front. (left).

While I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who either put up with my Disney obsession, or who are complete Disney fanatics themselves, I have come across my fair share of people who are completely opposed to ever visiting.

These people generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Those who think that Walt Disney World is “just an amusement park.”
  • Those who think Walt Disney vacations are a waste of time in comparison to authentic travel

I had my first out-of-the-country experience at twenty-two, and had only regularly began road-tripping the east coast at about eighteen. So while I now count the days until I can embark on some new exotic adventure, there will always be a part of my heart that aches when I’m away from Disney World for too long. For a good portion of my life, Walt Disney World was the “adventure” I looked forward to every year.

Literally, every year.

In fact, my trip this August will be the first time I have gone longer than a year without visiting. #sonotokay

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Fifteen. Converse, too much black eyeliner, and my first dye job. Clearly feeling bad to the bone, even while standing next to Mary Poppins. – Epcot’s Norway, 2008

Coming from a single-parent home meant that vacations weren’t always in the budget. And I remember the first year that we were finally able to go! After years of awing over the Disney resort commercials at the beginning of every VHS (#nostalgia) we were finally going to be that cheesy family from the commercials. From that point on Disney became our traditional family vacation.

While some may have had a more diverse range of travel experiences at a young age, I feel lucky to have had as many adventures as I did. And I do mean adventures.

Where else could you visit eleven different countries in one day, while enjoying a Mickey bar in between? Or go on an African safari without having to purchase high-priced airfare?

By the time I realized how much more of the world I wanted to see, I had already woken up in a resort where giraffes slept beneath my window, soared over California, and had lunch in a castle; all in the span of a week.

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The trio & the ‘Eiffel Tower’ – Epcot, 2015 (left) ; Pre-English Lunch, Epcot’s U.K., 2015 (right)

A couple of years ago, my mother took her own passions for travel and Walt Disney World and started her own travel agency, Map to Magic Vacations. Today, she and some other amazing agents have helped countless families create their own memories in five continents. And also many at the different Walt Disney resorts.

Some may always view Walt Disney World as “just a theme park”, but I have a different perspective. Disney for me, has always represented adventure, persistence, and memories I’ll always remember.

And while the world may be slightly more accessible to me now, and I definitely plan to take full advantage, I”ll never be too cool, too old, or too above strolling down Main Street, U.S.A, giant pretzel in hand, on my way to meet Mickey.

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NYC Food Fads II: Worth the Wait or Not So Great

You may have read my first NYC Food Fads installment in February. Well, safe to say I still haven’t kicked my addiction to social media hyped munchies. It seems that every week there is a new innovative “must-try” taking up a third of my Instagram feed, and naturally I can’t avoid joining in on the hype.

If you’re wondering if some of the newest fads are worth going out of your way for, I’m here to tell you what’s “worth the wait” and what’s “not so great”.

1. Soft Swerve – 85B Allen Street, New York, NY 10002

Considering that Ube Kitchen was such a hit at Smorgasburg, which opens for the season each April, it’s no surprise that Soft Swerve photo shoots began easing on my social media feeds around the same time. I too went home after experiencing the magic that is ube ice cream in a dragonfruit bowl, and Googled “Ube ice cream in NYC”. Surprise, surprise, Soft Swerve is the first location that pops up; and for good reason.

The ube ice cream at Soft Swerve is just as creamy and delicious, and various toppings, specials, and cone flavors allows customers to customize their dessert. What I love about this new trend of flavors, such as ube, coconut, black sesame, and matcha, is that they provide new, unique flavors without straying too far from the classic feel. Despite it’s simplicity, I would definitely consider Soft Swerve worth the wait.

Taste: 4/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Value: 4/5

 

2. Tipsy Scoop – 217 E 26th Street, New York, NY 10010

Tipsy Scoop is making waves with their liquor-infused ice cream flavors based on classic cocktails, but we’re not talking “adding a little rum for flavor.” Ordering a scoop at this ice cream bar, each of which has about 5% ABV, actually requires you to provide proof of age.

I went in around 4:00 PM and while many flavors were already sold out for the day, I still had a decent amount of choices to choose from. On this day Dark Chocolate Whiskey Caramel and Cake Batter Vodka Martini won out. There was an obvious liquor taste in both flavors, but it was definitely a bit more noticeable in the Cake Batter, most likely due to it having a vanilla base. I wouldn’t deny the possibility that a quart of this stuff, which you can actually purchase online, could leave you with at least a slight buzz. But the liquor flavors only add to already delicious ice cream. Jury says Tipsy Scoop is definitely worth the wait.

Taste: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Value: 4/5

 

3. Avocaderia – 238 36th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11232

Avocaderia, in my opinion, proves that social media hype can make anything trendy. Why Instagram your homemade avocado toast when you can choose from an array of avocado-centric dishes at Industry City’s new food hall? Customers can choose from various avocado toasts, with toppings like feta and smoked salmon, to salads with large helpings of the green fruit.

I decided to keep it simple and try the “Chill Out”, which is avocado toast topped with chili flakes and sichimi. I also ordered a side order of the “signature guaca” with baked pita chips. Despite the great taste and sturdiness of the multigrain bread, I have literally made more flavorful avocado toast in less than two minutes at home. Avocaderia guacamole is weirdly flat, lacking even the mildest hint of salt or lime. But hey, I did come across some pieces of chopped celery (#why). I’m sure some people will adore this spot just for the Instagram-worthy photos and maybe I should’ve tried one of the more topping filled toasts. But personally, if I’m going to drop almost 12 dollars on what is considered your “signature”, I want it to at least taste worth it. The only great thing about Avocaderia is that I was able to grab a mushroom slice from Table 87 right across the way. Not so great.

Taste: 2.5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Value: 1.5/5

 

4. Ice & Vice – 221 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

Ice & Vice is an experimental ice cream shop, and a winner of a 2014 Vendy Award for best dessert. Innovative flavors include names like Blood Sisters, Olive Garden, Ants on a Farm and many others. But Ice & Vice are also known for their outlandish dessert arrangements. Want a slice of pie between your two scoops? Sure. Want to top off your sundae with an ice cream sandwich? No problem.

I kept it simple with a scoop of Milk Money (toasted milk, sea salt, chocolate ganache) and a scoop of their 21+ flavor Pickles of the Caribbean (rum, coconut, pickled pineapple jam) in a blue corn honey cone. My friend went with 9 AM (Vietnamese coffee, donut truffle) and Basic B (Mexican vanilla, black lava sea salt) topped with a Mexican chocolate fruity pebble brownie ice cream sandwich in a coconut almond macaroon cone.

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It’s a mouthful, literally and figuratively. My Milk Honey flavor was delicious for what it was but the Pickles of the Caribbean was outstanding! The sweet pickled pineapple combined with the rum and semi-sweet coconut was the perfect combination. I already know I’ll make my way back here to try another combination by the end of the summer. All in all, I’d say Ice & Vice is worth the wait.

 

Taste: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Value: 4/5

 

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How I Accidentally Hiked to 1200 Feet in the Hudson Valley

If you read my last post, you know that I believe that accidental experiences often end up being the most memorable and worthwhile. Well yesterday, just a few days after writing that post, I ended up on another accidental adventure. How’s that for irony?

“Wanna go hiking tomorrow? I heard there’s a place in Cold Spring with some ruins?”

Let me start off by saying that while I have hiked, I in no way consider myself a hiker. If I did, I’d like to think I would have done more research than Googling “Ruins in Cold Spring” before responding to a friends invite with “Sure, why not.”

We began our trip with a two hour drive to Fishkill, NY, expecting nothing but a semi-leisurely hike to explore the Cornish estate. Being that we had parked at Little Stony Point, we thought we’d take a little pregame hike along the Hudson River, if for nothing but the views.

Aside from the clouds, we had perfect mid-70s weather, and honestly I could have spent more time than we did just relaxing around Stony Point. But we had come here with the goal of exploring the Cornish Estate and we were determined to complete it. Little did we know that we would not only complete that goal, but surpass it entirely.

We crossed the street and made our way over to the starting point, a sign with two directions: “Cornish Trail (Blue), Washburn Trail (White). Awesome, so we just have to follow the little blue markers. Easy enough, right?

Our hike began just as we expected. Primarily flat terrain, easy-going, with some photographic sites along the way.

Considering I did little to no research on this hike, it should come to no surprise that I didn’t exactly object when my hiking partners suggested taking short, off-trail detours, one of which included hopping rocks across a stream. You may be thinking, “Ah, okay. Now I see how you got yourself into an unplanned predicament.” Well, you’d be wrong. Despite our off-trailing, we still managed to find our way back onto our planned, blue-marked trail. And soon enough we had stumbled upon the Cornish Estate!

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The Cornish Estate, otherwise known as Northgate, was once owned by Edward Cornish and his wife Selina. In 1938, Edward tragically died at his desk at work, followed by his wife two weeks later. The estate then fell into the care of the Cornish’s nephew Joel until 1956 when a fire destroyed most of the mansion. By the 1960’s the estate became part of the Hudson Highlands State Park, but by then a majority of the estate had begone to deteriorate and nature had begun reclaiming pieces of it. This includes the destroyed mansion, the greenhouse, and other assorted buildings. After a half hour of walking passed the mansion, we were still passing smaller structures that were a part of the original estate, including the Cornish dairy.

The ruins of the barn, tower, and that of a wagon were still visible. The large lot of land behind the barn, which was most likely used for livestock or crops is also still completely visible, adding an odd transition considering it’s the only area of it’s kind on the entire trail. Oh yeah, there’s also a super creepy well that’s way too reminiscent of that from The Ring films.

The fact that the structures aren’t really that ancient made exploring them that much more eery. Above some fireplaces and are certain spots of flooring, there still remains tiles in mostly perfect condition.

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Once we passed the dairy the hike slowly began to increase in incline and difficulty. Paved paths and cement roads slowly turned into rocks and mud puddles, still we followed the markers as we had not yet had enough. At some point we came to a fork in the road. One way would lead us back to the beginning of our route, thus ending our hike for the day. The other would, or so we thought based on our interpretation of the maps we had gotten, take us close to Lake Surprise. If you faced that direction you also had a far view of one of the mountain summits. It was at this time that I made the joke, “While we’re going in that direction, let’s just head to the summit.” And so we continued in that direction.

However, it was soon apparent that our casual hike was becoming a bit more like an semi-climb. Though we obviously weren’t mountain climbing vertical slopes, the incline we were coming across was pretty close and soon we were using large rocks and branches in order to continue. This was definitely not the type of hiking any one of us had done before.

Using what little juice I had left on my phone, I was hoping my GPS signal could give us a little clue as to where we were. From the looks of it, we were nowhere near the end of the loop where we assumed we had been traveling. We were beginning to get tired and honestly, a bit stressed. While we still were able to follow marker’s letting us know we were indeed on a path, we had no idea the level of the path that we were currently on. But we did know it was a league out of anything we had ever done. Taking a minute to compose ourselves, we figured that we had made it too far to turn around. Going back seemed almost as tiring as finishing. Even though we had no idea exactly when we would finish.

It seemed as though every few feet we went got steeper, and I could already tell my legs would be killing me tomorrow, though my ankles were already starting to feel like jello.

I wasn’t able to get much footage of our steep hikes as I was wanted to have both hands free, but this is a good representation of some of the areas we had to get passed.

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We were drained and part of me felt like sitting down and giving up, but suddenly we heard “Guys, come see this!” from our friend who had gotten ahead of us. And there it was.

We hadn’t even considered attempting to make it to the summit and yet we had accidentally. For fifteen minutes we sat there taking in the view, resting our legs, and repeating over and over that “this made it all worth it.” We would’ve stayed longer but by then it was already around 6:00 PM and we knew we had to at least make it down the steep areas before sundown. As our luck would have it, getting down proved to be a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. It took going in the wrong direction twice and getting separated from and finding one person of our group, but eventually we re-found the blue markers that were leading us in a downwards direction. The descent took way less time than the way up but it was still quite a hike. Thankfully, we made it back to flat lands just as the sun finally set. Despite having seen the ruins earlier in the day, passing the dairy, then the mansion ruins, and eventually the greenhouse that we had missed originally with nothing but a flashlight definitely gave us the chills.

It took some time but by 8:30 PM we were back at Little Stony Point and hurrying into the car. What was supposed to be a 5 mile, relaxed hike ended up being maybe a 10 mile hike to 1200 feet which took us about six hours.

My legs are still sore and my body is still trying to process the usage of muscles that I swear I have never used before. And yet, I wouldn’t go back and change the adventure that we had. I’m very grateful to have been with two friends who are fun and laid back, but most importantly, able to remain calm and collected even in times of stress. Even when we felt like giving up at time, we were cracking jokes the whole way up..and down.

If I learned anything from this hike, it would be this:

  1. RESEARCH YOUR HIKES. Know the path you are taking and make sure you know the level of the trek you are taking on. Though we made it down safely, navigating the steep areas after sundown could’ve been ridiculously dangerous. Also make sure you are prepared with adequate equipment. While we had flashlights, adequate water, and protein bars to make our trip a little easier, my running sneakers were so not made for this type of trip.
  2. You are most likely capable of so much more than you think you are. If I had been told the type of hike we were taking on beforehand, I honestly might’ve passed; I would’ve blamed my asthma, or my lack of experience, or my nerves. And while I’m sure this hike is nothing serious to some, for me it was completely out of my comfort zone. Before yesterday I had hiked, but those hikes were generally long distance with mild incline. And now I can say I conquered 1200 feet of steep hiking without preparation. Not gonna lie, it feels pretty awesome.

So, I guess I have to leave this post off the same way I left my last.

The unplanned adventures definitely make for the best stories.

 

You can see some cool footage of our hike here.

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The Struggle of Being a Type-A Traveler

Of all the terms I could use describe myself, one would definitely be “compulsive planner.” I’m talking a making lists for the heck of making lists, Excel is my best friend, let’s replan something we’ve already planned, compulsive planner. And just in case you’re curious, yes, all of my DVDs and spices are in alphabetical order.

I have never really acknowledged my mild obsession with planning, something I have definitely inherited from my mother, until two summers ago when planning a family trip to Disney World. I guess going out of your way to schedule “time to relax” into your vacations plans may be a sign that you need to chill. I do blame a big part of this on being born and raised in New York. You start to realize as you get older, that everyone who has lived here their whole lives, is on edge a majority of the time. We walk fast, talk fast, and want things done in the exact order in which we want things done. Clearly that’s transferred over into my trip planning.

At this point I can research, price, and plan a complete itinerary almost as quickly as I can figure out an alternative commute home when the MTA is having train malfunctions again. Though, I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a bad thing all of the time. Because of this I have been able to make the most out of shorter trips, as well as help others plan their own adventures as an operations coordinator at Map to Magic Vacations.

But despite everything I have done so far, the most memorable moments always end up being those that were unplanned and unscheduled. And I have come to realize that it’s the accidental moments that you stumble upon, or rather the unpredictable moments that stumble upon you that are what truly make an experience.

I can’t remember exactly how long it took us to make it to the summit of the Eiffel Tower.

But I do remember strolling the Île de la Cité while eating Mango sorbet, before sitting in front of Notre Dame for a half hour. It was four days in and the sight of Notre Dame is what finally made me process that I was currently in a beautiful city I had dreamed of visiting since I was a seven. I packed so much into that week, but it was the last two days that I spent just walking and just being in Paris that always stick out in my mind.

I can’t remember the names of any of the paintings I saw at the Museum of Impressionisms during a day trip to Giverny.

But I do remember the names and stories of every amazing person I met during that tour, a recent divorcee who decided the change she needed was four months traveling France, a masseuse who traveled the world taking various meditation courses and had just come to Paris from Rome, a couple who once a year picked a piece of paper out of a hat which decided where there next adventure would be, a writer who had been living in Paris for a year and would soon be off again to somewhere new; and I remember laughing until our stomach’s hurt when I popped a bottle of cider, drenching everyone during our picnic along the Seine.

I can’t remember the names of every church I visited in Nicaragua.

But I remember making tortillas from scratch with a family we just met, though within minutes treated us as if we had known them our whole lives; even insisting we each take a mango from the tree behind their house before we left.

I can’t remember the names of the museums we visited in Quebec.

But I remember the late night ride up, as we drove through a thick wall of snow without the help of streetlights, singing “na na na na, hey, hey, hey goodbye” by Steam until we made it through. #morbid. ft. actual three second clip of my life flashing before my eyes.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about what or how many things you were able to check off your bucket list or your schedule. It’s the memories, the little things, and the unexpected pleasures that make for the best stories.

Choosing Accommodations: Price, Location, Geography, & Quality

Booking accommodations for your travels can be the easiest, or the most challenging part of your planning process. From my own experience, this became significantly easier once I experienced and understood the different types of accommodations available.

Nowadays, as far as accommodations go, I am reasonably open to different types of experiences, from homestays, to hotels, to hostels. Some travelers are loyal to one category, some feel that 5-star luxury hotels are the only options, others refuse to stay anywhere that doesn’t feel 100% authentic to location in which they are staying, others will stay wherever they can find the best deal.

In the end, there is no right or wrong choice. Different travelers have different preferences, and this can be due to a variety of reasons. Personally, when it comes to my own trip planning, I make my decision based primarily on four items.

  1. Price.
  2. Location.
  3. Geography.
  4. Quality
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Hospedaje La Libertad in Granada, Nicaragua

In terms of price, I always have a maximum that I am willing to spend per night. Depending on the trip, or if there is a specific place I am determined to stay, this maximum may be a bit higher. But even THAT maximum has a maximum. Generally speaking, I would rather spend more on day-to-day excursions or activities during my trip than on the place I am staying. In certain occasions, you may want have the urge to splurge on higher quality accommodations, for example, a beach vacation where you know 80% of your time will be spent at your resort. But on other trips, specifically ones where you will be spending the entirety of your days out and exploring, it may be best to realize that your accommodations are just where you will be getting some shut eye before another full day of adventures.

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The view from a Parisian studio rental, a ten minute walk to the Louvre

When it comes to location, you’ll generally notice that accommodations in or closer to a city central or attraction hub will be priced higher than those 25 minutes to an hour away. This is another item that comes down to preference. For myself, I generally prefer to be in the middle of the action. Not only does it minimize travel time but it usually also minimizes travel costs.

Too often I hear from new travelers that they booked a cheap stay 45 minutes from where they planned to spend most of their time, only to later realize that they ended up spending even more going back and forth to their accommodations. I really stress playing with numbers and researching local transportation options before you book anything. On the other hand, choosing to stay further away from your focus point may give you the opportunity to check out a location you hadn’t originally planned to see. Last summer, during our trip to Ireland we spent part of our stay near the town of Tralee, a town you don’t typically see on many “must visit” lists. Preference is typically given to more popular locations such as Galway, Killarney, etc. But when we took the time to actually explore Tralee, we loved it! We still got the Irish city vibe you would get from the larger towns, minus the hoard of people! We even stumbled upon attractions that ended up making it onto our favorites list, for example, the Medieval Experience at the Kerry County Museum.

My next deciding factor is geography. By geography I mean that, based on where exactly in the world I am visiting, I may have preference on where I’d like to stay.  In Ireland, I knew I couldn’t leave without spending at least one night in a castle, but had also always dreamt of staying in a guesthouse above a pub. Both were different, and equally worth it. During my trip to Nicaragua, we spent the entire time in hostels. And while we passed a few nice looking Marriott’s complete with outstanding things like air conditioning, our stay wouldn’t have been the same had we gone the hotel route. Staying in a hostel added a little something extra to the experience, from being able to spend time getting to know the owners, to home-cooked meals everyday. It was authentic and perfect for that trip. While in Paris, I rented a studio off of Airbnb. Being greeted by the two kindest French women who spoke not a word of English, and being able to trek my way up flights of stairs after a long day of exploring and market shopping made me feel just like an authentic Parisian.

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Dinner at the Knight’s bar at Clontarf Castle Hotel

Finally, quality plays a role in choosing an accommodation. While I don’t typically rely on ‘stars’ to determine the quality of location, I will scroll through reviews on Tripadvisor to see if other travelers had a good experience during their stay.

I get it, the amount of available accommodations can seem overwhelming especially when you’re visiting a place you aren’t too familiar with. Being able to narrow down your options helps tremendously and also helps you find out figure out what makes you comfortable and what will make your trip one to remember.

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The 5 Must-See Views of Paris

This may come as a surprise to some but the view from the summit of the Eiffel Tower, as impressive as it is, is not the best view of Paris, in Paris. And while the Eiffel Tower is definitely not absent from this list, and some may argue that every view in Paris is the a stunning view of Paris, here is my top 5 favorite views in Paris.

#5 The Big Wheel at Place de la Concorde

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You know the big wheel in the background of all the photos of the Champs Elysee? Well ironically, it actually is called the Big Wheel and you can take a ride on it for a birds-eye view of the Jardin des Tuileries and the Place de la Concorde. After your two rotations and alternate views of sites such as Cleopatra’s Needle, you’re in the perfect location to take a walk through the beautiful Jardin, and during the summer months, the Fête des Tuileries.

#4 Notre Dame de Paris

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The only thing that comes close to being as awe-inspiring as when you first walk into view of Notre Dame while strolling the Ile de la Cité, is the view from the top of Notre Dame. I may be bias since the Hunchback of Notre Dame (a.k.a. the most underrated Disney move of all time) was one of my favorite movies growing up, but the gargoyles undeniably add something to the view. After getting up close and personal with the gargoyles of Notre Dame, grab yourself some sorbet at Berthillon and spend some time walking through Shakespeare & Co. Probably my best way to spend an afternoon.

#3 Eiffel Tower

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Of course I couldn’t leave the Eiffel Tower off of this completely; it still provides one of the most extensive views of Paris. The view also offers you the chance to see the intricate design of the different streets and areas of Paris; you can almost see the breakdown of arrondissements.  Highly recommend you purchase a pre-timed ticket when visiting the Eiffel Tower, unless you enjoy five hour lines. Also highly recommend you take the time to fully enjoy each floor (first floor, second floor, summit). You’ll end up spending at least some time waiting for the lift to the next floor anyway, might as well take in the mild change in views and angles from each spot.

#2 Arch de Triomphe

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The view from the Arch de Triomphe gives you that same breakdown of the Parisian avenues but also includes a view of the Eiffel Tower, giving you that picture perfect shot. You’re also getting the complete reverse view that you would get from the Big Wheel, looking directly down the Champs Elysee.

#1 Tour Montparnasse

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Tour Montparnasse will forever be my favorite view in Paris, until I find one that proves me otherwise. Ironically, the actual Tour Montparnasse is rather unbecoming, standing dark an over-modernized, high above the Parisian skyline. However, the view from the observation desk is like no other, with a full 360 degree view of Paris, while close enough but not too close to the tower itself. We visited the observation deck early enough that we were able to capture some daylight photos, as well as stunning sunset photos. I had already felt one with Paris from the moment I arrived, but it was during our few hours sitting above the city that I truly fell in love.

 

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