One week in Sri Lanka

August 24th 2017

My sister and I spent a month together in India in 2013 and have been trying to recreate that trip ever since (minus a few of her belly issues). Sri Lanka looked very similar. On the map it looked like India’s adorable little sister. They had curry. There were cool temples and hikes and ELEPHANTS. Flights were cheap.

So 24 hours of flying (+layover in Doha) via Qatar airways and we were there. Was it as cool as India? No. But it had its pros: It was cleaner. More calm.

DAY 1: Colombo to Galle. Land at Bandaranaike International Airport at 3am, drive directly to Galle. There was no traffic and it still took us 2 hours longer than everyone said it would. This is the theme of Sri Lanka. Nothing. Is. Close. Everything is way, way farther than you’re told it is. Check in to Niyagama House (rated #1 hotel in Galle on TripAdvisor). We loved it though its distance from town was both nice (it was removed in this lush green forest, super peaceful), but also unfortunate (because I feel that we missed out on really getting to know the town). We had breakfast at Galle Fort Hotel, checked out the actual Galle Fort (meh), explored the town. Highlights included massages at Galle Fort Spa (AMAZING) and lunch at AmanGalla (try to sneak in and see the pool).Explore outer Galle area (fruit and veggie markets, fisherman villages)

DAY 2: Galle. Wake up early (jetlaggg), meditate on Niyagama House roof as the sun rises then take the 3 mile walk around the Niyagama House property and then do aerial yoga with the proprietress (part of the reason we booked the hotel was that the food was supposed to be great – and it was – and the owner is a yoga instructor who specializes in aerial).

Visit Unawatuna Beach (everyone said it was a GORGEOUS beach – we walked back and forth trying to find the gorgeous beach, thought we were at the wrong place, but we weren’t and it was just OK). We got massages at The Sanctuary Spa (not the best of our 5 ayurveda massages but great vibe – services are done in cool little tree houses with the beach breeze blowing in) then checked out the pagoda + Buddha, drank coconuts, etc. The whole area has a backpacker-y vibe without the energy or the actual backpackers. Another theme of Sri Lanka is that it all feels very deserted.

For dinner, take a cooking class at Lucky Fort or Niyagama (we did it at Niyagama, it was yum.)

DAY 3: Galle to Tangelle. We stayed at Buckingham Place (it had amazing reviews…it was bad. Cold, dark and the food was gross and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere with no one else around). We then took a 3 hour ride to Tangelle Beach (which was supposed to be much shorter). Honestly you could kind of skip it but it was VERY deserted when we were there (sidenote: I literally have no idea where all the other people are in Sri Lanka?!) and a cloudy day. The reason to go? The AmanWella is there. We had lunch and hung on their pretty stretch of beach. By ourselves. You could also go at night to see the turtles hatch in Rekawa but we passed when we read it was “like watching paint dry”.

DAY 4: Tangelle to Udawalawe National Park to Ella. This was a long day and it wasn’t even our longest drive. We woke up at 4:30am to take the two hour drive to Udawalawe National Park. Literally just typing Udawalawe gives me butterflies! The elephant safari here was the HIGHLIGHT of our trip/my life. 600+ elephants roam free (the only place there’s more is in Africa) and you are guaranteed to see them. We watched them bathe, saw soo many babies and had them not even two feet from our 4-wheeler. If you can find our guide Nandu he is an angel. He is doing his part to conserve the park – he picked up litter everywhere and was so respectful of the elephants. He knew each and every one of them. (“She is like you, madam,” he said when we came across a 32 year old female).

The safari was supposed to be 3 hours but we were so obsessed we did two back to back so basically spent the whole day in the park until my sister had had enough and made us leave. I would have slept there. I would actually still be living with the elephants probably. The first safari was awesome because it was dawn so lots of animals but also more crowded with vehicles. The second safari was really quiet; we watched the elephants bathe and saw jackals devouring a baby buffalo. We also got to go further into the park to areas that most people usually don’t see.

Afterwards we drove straight to Ella. About 4 hours. We thought it would be shorter. We stayed at the Mountain Heavens hotel. We really wanted to stay at 98 Acres but we booked nothing ahead of time and it was sold out. So I guess that’s where everyone is in Sri Lanka?

DAY 5: Ella. In the morning we realize that we really like Mountain Heavens (don’t get it confused with mount heaven aka mount hell). The hotel was nice – small and cute and the view is insane. Nicest view we saw in Ella. We loved Ella! Have cake at Little Folly and hang out with the owner. Take one of his walks. Go see the train – it’s so cute like a little toy. Get
massages at Suwamadura but only if you’re ok with being molested. It is a full (full!) body massage so nothing is off limits. Or maybe me and my sister just got molested? Honestly we aren’t clear but it was the best massage we’ve both ever had. We got a free extra hour that we didn’t pay for. Take the steam bath too – that is molestation free.

Dinner was a buffet at Zion view. You have to preorder it (and leave a deposit) earlier in the day. It was fine – very clean, lively and great view.

DAY 6: Ella to Central Province. Spend the morning at 98 Acres – have lunch, use the facilities, etc. I had researched and researched and found this hotel called Taylor’s Hill that I decided we HAD to go to.

It was going to be perfect to break up the 6 hour drive to Kandy except it was literally terrible. It took us 6 hours to get to central province (instead of 3) because we cheaped out and hired a non-English speaking driver who got very lost and was so weird – made us friend him on Facebook and told us our laughs or lives were beautiful and then didn’t understand another word we said including “please stop for a picture” and “how far away are we?” and “STOP THE VEHICLE”.

Do stop in Nuwara Eliya on the way (we didn’t because of above driver mishap). It’s an interesting town that they call “little England” but not really worth a night because why be in England when you’re in Sri Lanka? FYI it’s also freezing in this one little specific area, like 20 degrees colder than the rest of the country.

Taylor Hills was pretty. Doing it over again, we’d probably have stayed in Ella another night though there’s not so much to do there it’s very relaxing and beautiful. We would have definitely gotten another massage.

DAY 7: Central Province to Kandy.
Hotel: theva house

We woke up had a leisurely morning at Taylor’s hill (it’s an old English tea plantation farmers home). It’s sort of a standard bed and breakfast like you’d find anywhere in England or New England.
We didn’t feel like we should have wasted a night there.

We visited the James Taylor tea plantation. Meh.

Then drove to Kandy. Got in late and had dinner at Theva House. Pre Order the 17 spice curry dinner

Sunset in Kandy at theva house is absurdly beautiful.

Thursday:
Kandy
Hotel: theva house
Visit the temple of the tooth (we went on Naional holiday Sri Lankan Independence Day so it was insane crowded but apparently it’s always crowded which is part of the experience) visit a tea factory (eh), visit the large walking Buddha tktkt (liked) and the royal botanic gardens which is the Central Park of Kandy. Very pretty – bring a book!

Dinner again at theva house Bc the rice and curry was so good.

Friday;
Kandy >> Colombo

The Perfect Summer Weekend in Maine

August 2nd 2017

My best friend Mike and I share a love for Georgia O’Keefe, Americana and the great open road. After an ayahuasca-filled adventure through New Mexico last year, we opted for a more tame all-you-can-eat tour of Maine this summer. Also, I’m pregnant.

DAY 1:

Mike rents us a car…all the way in Jersey City. (Note to self: No longer put Mike in charge of renting cars). The adventure begins. We download In the Garden of Beasts on audible and onto I-95 we go.

The drive is long. How do you make it feel less long? Stop at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven. It’s a little out of the way – plus there’s an offensively long wait at peak hours – but tell me if you still care once you’re devouring White Clam pizza and a Margharita pie topped with roasted red peppers. Pro tip: Order 18″ and pack the leftovers to eat when you check into your hotel room in Kennebunkport at midnight (or was that just pregnant me?).

Speaking of hotels, I’ve never been so happy to see one as I was with The Kennebunkport Inn. It’s a little big inn – with more rooms than you’d think, right in the center of town.

DAY 2:

It’s time to no longer think in terms of traditional meals: There is no breakfast, lunch or dinner. There is only lobster.

On that note, we wake up and make our way to The Clam Shack when they open at 11. The order: Lobster rolls + Clam Chowder. Fun fact: It’s just called Clam Chowder here because it’s New England and there’s only one New England Clam Chowder. Duh.

Aside from The CandyMan, where I stock up on weird flavors of taffy like Root Beer Float and Key Lime Pie, the most exciting thing to do in Kennebunkport is to visit Walker’s Point, George H.W. Bush’s compound.

Following the map, Mike and I drove right up to his front gate before we were stopped by security and told to drive further along the road to a place where senior citizens were gathered admiring the 41st POTUS’ summer home.

Next up: Goose Rocks Beach. Stop for oysters/lobster cocktail (and a real cocktail) at The Tides Beach Club. Bonus: Eating there gives you parking access (otherwise it’s permit only near Goose Rocks Beach) and you can use their beach chairs, towels, etc.

Make the 2 hour drive to Camden.

We stayed at Lord Camden Inn (Mike found it…mental note to no longer put Mike in charge of hotels either though he would probably argue that it was fine). (Also, it is to be pronounced only with an English accent. “The Lowd Kem-Den Inn”.)

Doing it all over again, I’d stay in Lincolnville at The Lincolnville Motel instead of Camden; we drove to it the following day so I could check it out (I had read good things) and it was adorable. No frills (at all) but chic and clean and campy (sort of like Ruschmeyers in Montauk).

At this point, you may be worried that all of this lobster could lead to scurvy. Fear not – head to Long Grain for amazing Thai food. You will be very thankful for their steamed local kale and tofu which doesn’t sound delicious but it is.

Dessert is ice cream at Camden Cove.

DAY 3:

Drive to Portland.

The best thing you will do on this drive is to stop at Red Eat’s in Wiscasset. So cute, so yummy. Apparently on summer weekends the bridge traffic is terrible and everyone gets out of their cars to have lobster rolls while they wait to cross. If the line is too long (or if you just want to stock up on snacks for the car) check out Treats for cheeses, sandwiches and soups.

The rest of the village is adoooorable. Antique stores + home decor stores (Birch, Moulinette, Rock Paper Scissors) that are sophisticated and chic.

Get to Portland, finally, and have dinner at cool, casual Terlingua. It’s down south BBQ meets South America. There’s delicious tortilla soup and BBQ specials on the blackboard (we had the brisket, highly recommend).

Stay at The Press Hotel. It was OK – perfect enough. Good location. It would have been better if there were rooms with double beds – instead Mike ended up on an air mattress that deflated in the middle of the night. Eep.

DAY 4:

It’s a busy day of Portland activities (aka eating).

Start with breakfast at Dutch’s – an order-at-the-counter, seat-yourself, cafeteria-styled restaurant that reminds me of my childhood in Puerto Rico (complete with linoleum floors, faded booths and vintage travel posters) but home to an extensive, yummy menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches.

Check out the Portland Museum of Art, skip Higgins Beach (it’s eh).

If you’re jonesing for some beach head to Crescent State Beach – it’s a state park but we found it to be really quiet with soft soft sand and calm water. Highly recommend picking up provisions from the nearby Cheese Iron (i.e. meats, cheeses, crackers, sweets, etc..) and having a picnic.

Stay for a bit and then continue on to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Headlight lighthouse at golden hour. If the Bite into ME food truck is still open, it’s worth the scurvy.

Leave just before the sun goes down so you can catch a proper sunset up the road at Kettle Cove State Park. It’s the most beautiful, magical sunset in Maine, hands down. Bring a blanket and curl up to watch the show OR find out how to rent a paddle board nearby (there were people on them and I was very jealous).

Nearby (for before or after or both, no judgment) is Kettle Cove Creamery. It’s everything I ever wanted in an ice cream stand. Flavors like blueberry pie, salty chocolate malt and sea kelp (yes, it’s good) PLUS they had fresh soft serve, too.

Dinner: Central Provisions (James Beard finalist etc. etc.) on Mule Street. Also wanted to try Eventide but alas, too many restaurants not enough time.

DAY 5:

DONUT leave Maine before you do two things:

Grab yourself a sicilian slice snack from Slab and wait on whatever line there is at The Holy Donut bc seriously, holyyyy donuts (ps, they’re made of potatoes so they’re a little thicker and chewier than regular donuts and they have lots of gluten free options).

Drive home, diet for the rest of the summer.

OTHER STUFF:

Things I wanted to do but didn’t: wild blueberry picking, Acadia National Park (too far), go visit some of the little islands outside of Camden (we tried to do this last minute and got stuck on a very long ferry line and then found out there wasn’t a return ferry until the following day…not meant to be)

Articles that I found helpful: Eater’s “17 Essential Maine Lobster Rolls”

Things recommended to me that I wasn’t able to do:
Edge comb: Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm – near boothbay / Maine Botanical Gardens – small shack with their oysters that you purchase and then they have picnic tables and all the tools to shuck. So fun. Can bring your own beverages and just chill/shuck your own.
Portland: Lucky Catch boat tour. Very cool. Got to learn about lobstering then purchase a lobster off the boat for $6-7 depending on size. They’ll either cook it for you at the restaurant next door (Portland Lobster Company) or if you have a place to cook it yourself you take it with you.

Roadtripping New Mexico

May 18th 2017

NEW MEXICO ROADTRIP

When: May 2015
With: Mike, my best guy friend
For: 5 days
Budget: $$

Night 1: Albuquerque. “Welcome to the land of enchantment,” said the guy at the Avis counter, handing over the keys to a white Mustang. “We locals call it the land of entrapment — once people come they never leave.” It’s midnight and my best friend Mike and I just landed at Albuquerque International Sunport, which we very much cannot wait to leave.

We drove our newly rented ‘stang directly to Frontier Restaurant, a no-frills diner, which came highly recommended via a Twitter crowdsource. The vibe was not fabulous but the food was (think: enchiladas, burritos, green-chile stew, etc.).

Albuquerque at night is creepy and no place more so than the motel I had booked, Sandia Peak Inn. I was going for cute and kitschy (it had really good Trip Advisor reviews!) but it was slightly terrifying (albeit clean).

Day 1: Albuquerque to Galisteo. Early morning we made our way to the “Turquoise Trail” aka scenic Highway 14 (take this instead of dreary I-25); met Lorraine, a friend of a friend’s shaman. Did I mention that we were in New Mexico on a pilgrimage to take ayahuasca?

*more to come on this experience soon*

Day 2: Galisteo to Taos. Post ayahuasca, we blast New Mexico’s best radio station, 104.1 (highly recommend) and continue towards Taos with a stop at Ten Thousand Waves. The spa has multiple pools, baths, spa treatments and even a meditation room. Everything was lovely (except for the Yuzu bath salts I bought at the gift shop, which gave me a rash).

From there, drove on to Taos. Observed beautiful scenery like the Rio Grande, fields of wildflowers and many a Sonic Drive-In (tator tots, por favor).

Have dinner at El Meze where all the chairs on the patio face the mountains movie theatre-style for serious sunset watching (order Tamales de Cardenas, you’re welcome).

A word on our hotel: We planned to continue our spiritual journey at a rental home in the Earthship Biotecture buuuuut we do not actually sleep there because it is hand to g-d, the scariest place I’ve ever been. It’s in the middle of nowhere (the houses are miles apart from one another) and entirely self-sustainable which is code for noisy and creepy af. Once it got dark, we hightailed it out of there so fast that Mike left without his wallet and I refused to go back with him to get it.

We drove straight to Hacienda del Sol Inn, a super cute B&B and while it’s hard to be objective when comparing to the dread of the Earthship, this place was adorable.

Note: In the light of day a visit to the Earthship Biotecture (and its visitor’s center) is worth it for some cool photo opportunities…and to learn about sustainable living.

Day 3: Taos. Spent the day at Taos Pueblo. You can tour parts of the Native American reservation/UNESCO World Heritage Site, eat lunch at the family-run restaurants (find the blue corn tortilla soup with ground turkey at the eatery across from the San Geronimo Chapel), and buy handicrafts from the local artisans. I came home with a lifetime supply of sage. Find Robert Mirabal’s shop, I love him.

We drove that late afternoon to Santa Fe and checked in to El Farolito, another cute B&B. Bonus points for the authentic adobe architecture and 1850s vintage-style New Mexican beds.

Day 4: Santa Fe. Quickly checked out the Loretto Chapel, which is famous for its “miraculous staircase” then explored (and shopped) the main plaza for turquoise jewelry and desert landscape art. Loved The Chile Shop for awesome New Mexico cookbooks and specialty condiments. Tried Frito pie (per Anthony Bourdain’s kinda sorta recommendation) at the back of the Five and Dime General Store and obsessed over Georgia O’Keeffe at her namesake museum. [Didn’t make it to Meow Wolf but wish I had].

Cafe Pasqual’s is the dinner reservation to get in town followed by Vanessie’s Lounge, a piano bar.

Day 5: Santa Fe to Albuquerque to Home. Spent the morning at Santa Fe’s “Museum Hill,” which consists of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens, and my personal obsession, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. I took so long in there that Mike left for coffee and a snack (he highly recommends the Museum Hill Cafe) and came back to find me still wandering the contemporary exhibits, transfixed by everything from modern Native American art (David Bradley is brilliant) to reproductions of trading posts and teepees. Make sure to exit through the gift shop; it’s filled with Native American jewelry, clothing, and an extensive bookstore where I bought The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living and Short.

Our final stop was Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. We buy “Indian tacos” from the vendors at the base and hike to the top where we take a million photos of the fascinating rock formations. Quick Rorschach test: what do they look like to you?

Fly home in love with New Mexico – new favorite place in the US!

Honeymoon 2: Croatia + Montenegro

August 25th 2016

When I found out I was pregnant two and a half months before my wedding I happily accepted not drinking, not feeling well and probably not fitting into my Carolina Herrera dress. But I cried when it came to canceling our three week honeymoon to Africa. The one I had spent months planning…and for which we had just put down a huge deposit. Cried so hard that my then-fiancé probably reconsidered marrying me.

Fast forward: We decided to go on a cute little road trip immediately following our May wedding. And we planned a European honeymoon trip for July. Here, all the details on the latter:

CROATIA AND MONTENEGRO

When: July, 2016
With: My husband
For: 11 days
Budget: $$$$$

Day 1: Fly into Split. Not my favorite place in the world. We stayed at the Park Hotel Split which was a giant ashtray disguised as a 5 star hotel, with a vile buffet breakfast. Bad, bad start.  Our travel agency sent us to a restaurant that had about 600 seats and 4 customers. Soo we left and went to Perivoj which was a short walking distance AND the number 1 restaurant at the time, according to my TripAdvisor app. The courtyard seating was beautiful, the food was fine.

Day 2: Split to Hvar. We wanted to be cheap so we took the public ferry with all of our luggage. It was fine but crowded and long (closer to 2 hours than 1, despite what people like travel agents will tell you). I slept the entire way while Sam wished we had taken the private boat option. Our hotel in Hvar was the Adriana Spa Hotel. Loved it even if it was a little cheesy. Think: electric colors and a cruise ship-decor vibe. We had an amazing view over the bay. The concierge was fantastic.

Day 3: The highlight of Hvar were the Pakleni Islands, a short boat ride away. Definitely go. The ride itself was beautiful: dolphins jumping up out of the water, etc. The Beach club we found, Laganini, felt very much like our favorite parts of Greece. Get the beds by the water and lounge. Eat lunch at Zori next door – fresh fish and salads. We also went for burgers one night at 50, who knows why but they were really good. We ate them sitting outside in a cute little alley. And we went to Hula Hula for sunset which was a giant frat party and we were the oldest people by a decade and it still may have been fun except I was pregnant.

Day 4: Hvar (see above)

Day 5: Hvar to Ston to Dubrovnik. Do not do this via car. Take a boat. We drove and it was 6 hours of winding roads. I was almost one of those women who gets murdered on their honeymoon by her husband. We also had to wait for the ferry for two hours in some random port town. Eep. However, our lunch en route in Ston at Kapetanova Kuća (aka Captains’ House) was delicious. The oysters were almost good enough to make us forget about our terrible drive (me more than Sam).

Day 6: Dubrovnik. Stay at Villa Dubrovnik. It’s so pretty even though the bottom rooms have a weird smell (we complained and got upgraded to an enormous suite). The lounge chair area on the rocks of the Adriatic Sea is a highlight. The hotel breakfast was delicious (fresh yogurt with honey yum) and the dinner menu has a section of traditional dishes that are fun to try (there’s some meat pasta thing like a Croatian bolognese. It’s yum). Explore the walls and the old city, very Game of Thrones and also very touristy. We ate pizza twice here in the town because the restaurants were underwhelming. The best dinner we had in Dubrovnik was a fifteen minute drive in the mountains at Konoba Dubrova. GO and have your hotel preorder you the traditional lamb roast. Also – weird and random but awesome – we spent a few hours exploring this creepy, bombed out hotel right outside of town called The Belvedere. You’ll recognize parts of it from GOT. Read up about it on your way, the history is fascinating and it’s an important reminder of the region’s war torn past.

Day 7: Tour of the Peljesac Peninsula via boat. This was a great day. We snorkeled. Went to secluded spots and swam. Explored Sipan and Kobas, tiny little islands with churches. Lunch at Gastro Mare, which you can only get to via boat, was beyond a highlight. Fresh caught everything, amazing wine. Sam asked multiple times why we didn’t do the whole trip on a boat.

Day 8: Dubrovnik to Montenegro.  We drove from Dubrovnik to Montenegro. Story of our honeymoon. This one was long too but cool because we stopped in Perast and explored the little island church and went to Kotor which we loved. Like a more charming, original Dubrovnik. We also did the Moric family olive oil experience. I thought it was cute; “hard pass,” says Sam.

Day 9: Aman Sveti Stefan. Heavenly. It’s an old little fishing village on an island that they transformed into a luxury hotel. UNESCO protected. We stayed in a deluxe cottage and just relaxed for 3 days at all of the beaches (there’s 3 of them) and all the pools (there’s also 3 of them). The casual little restaurant serves something called Pastrovic pasta that is insanely delicious. The fancier restaurant is good with amazing regional wine. The Queen’s beach is the most gorgeous secluded little beach cove. Loved.

Day 10: See above

Day 11: See above

REGRETS: Not seeing Pliitvice Lakes (travel agent said it’s too hot and crowded and filled with “gobs of tour buses”). “Not doing a boat the whole time,” says Sam.

#LifeWellTravelled

September 4th 2015

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Check out this profile of me in The Atlantic by the amazingly talented Ruth Margalit. (She also coincidentally has a new feature out in The New Yorker, An Exile in the Corn Belt, that I loved reading.)

If you’re new to my site, here’s where it all started. I’m linking to my Tumblr for now so it’s easier to read chronologically, but follow along on this blog – and my social media – for more up to date posts, which I swear there will be soon!

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