A Ticket to the Top

24,901 miles of adventure, food, and love. All starting in NYC.

No Sleep Till Cartagena

I’m at the point in my life where I don’t want to wait on someone else’s schedule to do the things I want to do. When I found reasonably priced tickets to Cartagena, Colombia, I knew I had to go. Because of work deadlines, I had a short window where I could book my trip. I asked a few friends if they’d like to join, but unfortunately none of their schedules fit with mine. I was off to Colombia on my own.


Most of my friends and family members had the same reaction “What do you mean you’re going to Colombia alone? Aren’t you scared? What about the drug cartels?”

I assured them I would be fine. Reminded them I have a working knowledge of Spanish and fear is relative. I live in the most famous city in the world- Everyday I get to say “I am in New York City,” and I am certain there are people who would be terrified of that same phrase.

So on a plane I went on Sunday morning, but first I had to get through Saturday night. A dear friend of mine is on the committee for an annual ball benefitting sudden cardiac arrest. This year I attended and I had a blast. The most amazing swing band with a packed dance floor. Not to mention open bar. I didn’t get home until 5:30 AM, which left me about a half hour to shower and head to the airport. I desperately tried to stay awake at the gate and as luck would have it, couldn’t sleep on the plane. Oh, I should also mention about 4 weeks prior to this I twisted my knee, so for this event and my trip, I was in a knee brace.


My first day in Colombia was a wash. I spent it napping and watching the American Superbowl. Watching football in Spanish,  I kept yelling “Ah, No! Que Paso?! was he safe?”

I spent 3 days/2 nights on Isla Baru at the most charming bed and breakfast. I had my own little paradise where I sipped the best mojito in my hammock, cuddled with the dogs, and went to sleep to the sound of waves crashing. One of the days I took a cab to Playa Blanca to see the gorgeous turquoise waters. I put my Spanish skills to good use as I chatted with some of the locals and defended myself against scammers. This gringa won’t be taken advantage of! The water was so calm that even with a knee injury (and the warning of my physical therapist) I went into the ocean. Perhaps the best meals were the one provided by my hotel. The fish was so spectacularly tender it tasted more like fish. One night the power went out on the entire so dinner, which is a group dinner among all people staying in the house, moved to the beach. A beachfront dinner with a bonfire under the stars!!! People pay hundreds of dollars for this at fancy carribean resorts.

Told you the views are great 😉

In Cartagena I stayed within the walled city. It reminded me of “Love in the Time of Cholera” hearing the horses walk along the cobble stoned streets. I arrived to the city a bit before dusk. For dinner I insisted on ceviche. I went to a restaurant the hotel recommended. Early in the morning I knew the ceviche was not agreeing with me. I happily settled for some toast and fruit for breakfast. There’s something about the butter in South America- I can eat pan y montaquilla every day!

Being a New Yorker, I thought I could walk the 20 minutes to the markets. Boy, was I wrong. I decided to make a short detour of about 10-15 minutes, and this was the death of me. Yeah, I’m a New Yorker and summers in the city are grueling, but nothing is like the Colombian sun. I was sweating profusely when I arrived to the market. I went from stall to stall looking for bottled water. The heat, upset stomach, and low calorie breakfast was a trifecta for heat exhaustion. Once I found water, I sat atop the fortress wall, slowly sipping it. No use- I caught a cab back to my hotel, I needed to sleep. When I woke I bought a can on coke from my hotel. REJOICE COKE! I don’t know if it was the bubbles, sugar, or caffeine, but it brought me back to life, and just in time to get covered in volcanic mud!


One thing I noticed about Cartagena is that you have to begin your exploring around 3PM. I went during the windy season and that’s the time the wind begins to kick in. The city almost comes to life after 3PM. When I returned from the volcano, feeling much better, I grabbed a few arepas from the street and settled in for a walk around town. The next morning I grabbed a few souvenirs, a coconut water or two, and said goodbye to Cartagena.

I came back tan and with another country crossed off my bucket list.

Let’s call this my Italian birthright 

I was alerted of an airfare sale through Meridiana airlines from NYC to Naples, Italy. My mom retired the week prior and she always said she would travel the world once she retired. If there’s one thing I love more than champagne and red lipstick, it’s making sure people travel the world. I told dad about the deal while finding a friend who would like to travel with me. To my surprise, the parents offered to buy my ticket and join them.

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The plan: I work Wednesday and meet them at the airport. I’ll travel to Sorrento with them for a few days. Come Monday, I’ll return to the US and they’ll continue traveling Italy for another 2 weeks.

No family trip is free of drama but that’s for another post.

Our itinerary:

Day 1- arrive in Naples and pick up car. Head to our hotel (which was an authentic monastery complete with nuns) and explore some of Sorrento

Day 2- get a tour of Pompeii in the morning. Continue exploring Sorrento at night.

Day 3-Island of Capri complete with private tour guide and boat ride. (Yours truly puked on the boat)

Day 4-Positano and driving the Amalfi highway.(Did not plan to take the mountainous way back but it was lovely)

Day 5- drive back to Naples to get on separate flights. (Forgot to note “pick up sandwich for flight because airline food is gross”)

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Enjoying fresh figs in Capri

Overall, it was southern Italy. I was scared of the driving, considered a local, and drunk. Oh man, that house wine is amazing. I’m not sure about traveling with my parents again. They are pretty cool and all about looking at unique and off the beaten path restaurant via TripAdvisor. However, no men hit on me because, as one would guess, I was with my parents. But then again, they did pay for some amazing meals and views. Free trip to Italy V. Smooching on Italian boys. It’s a constant battle within.

Ciao for now

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Only one I gave a good smooch to in Italy

On the Flip Side

Everything has another side we tend to overlook most of the time. When things don’t go the way they are planned, I try to find that other side. I hope to find comfort in the reason or silver lining of the situation.

This February I had planned a short trip to Iceland. My tickets were a steal at $250 round trip. Small catch-my flight was out of Boston. I booked a reward ticket with Delta to Boston. Everything was set. I had my morning at the blue lagoon, my snorkeling tour booked, and the cafes I would visit. The morning of my departure, I get a cancellation email from the airline. Boston airport is closed due to a snow storm. Ironic- My flight to Iceland cancelled due to ice!

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Totally nailed the “Elsa in an ice castle” thing!

This was a Monday morning. I quickly text my boss about my cancelled trip and would be in a little later than usual, emailed the blue lagoon and snorkeling tour to cancel my reservation, and finally, called the airline to refund my flight. As any good travel knows, the E.U. has a very transparent flyer bill of rights. The airline offered to put me on a flight for the next day, but I requested the refund instead. Looking back, I could have inquired about them purchasing another ticket for a different airline out of NYC, but I was feeling under the weather. The day before I went to a first med to be diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. This cancelled flight was a blessing in disguise. I like to think that had I gone to Iceland, my infection would have progressed to something worse like pneumonia.

As I sat in my windowless cube at work, my colleagues asked why I was there. They knew how excited I was to see the Northern Lights, having timed my trip for one of the best days of the year. I also needed this trip. I broke things off with a guy the week before. I needed to find a rebound-I needed a new adventure to love.

I remembered seeing a website for an ice castle. Every year, in various locations throughout the USA, ice castles are built. I informed my boss I would be taking off Friday to see the ice castle in Lincoln, New Hampshire (a 6 hour drive.)

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Pause: Lincoln, New Hampshire. What is in Lincoln, NH?!

I would be spending the night at a Westin outside Boston. “Single girl killed while visiting ice castle in Lincoln, NH” did not sound like a nice headline. I explored the hotel website after booking. It was promoting a nearby ski mountain. I always wanted to learn how to snowboard so I booked a snowboard lesson. My good friend came to the rescue and loaned me  snowboard pants and a jacket.

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First time on a board and terrified. 

It turned out to a be an amazing long weekend. I appreciated the time alone to sort through my feelings, listened to all of season 1 Serial podcast, and most importantly, BECAME OBSESSED WITH SNOWBOARDING!

Ready for silver lining?

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Laughing at my silver lining

My trip was cancelled-I took a snowboard lesson-I went out on several dates with 2 separate men (better than a rebound hookup) who I only met because I was snowboarding.

Now, that’s real optimism.

 

Boobs, Butts & Feathers

I survived my first Caribbean carnival, and this is the tale.

I spent an extended weekend in Toronto for the annual Caribana Carnival. Normally I am not a fan of dancing in the streets while men try to grind on me, but I was told I get to wear a costume with lots of feathers. I was sold.

I left NYC on a Thursday night- landing in Toronto around midnight. My friend booked a really nice apartment for us to stay in. We were a group of 5- 2 beds, 2 baths, balcony, and view of the CN Tower.

The weekend was filled with lots of Tim Hortons, Uber XL’s and clubs, but the highlight was Caribana.

The ladies woke up early on Saturday morning to do hair and makeup, while the guys slept a little later. As we prepared for battle with curling irons and mascara, their “prep” work consisted of a t-shirt.

A quick guide to carnival:

Carnival consists of several bands. Each band has a theme. Within each band are sections. The sections have unique costumes which reflect the band’s theme. During the parade, the sections cross the stage to be judged. The next day, the winning band is usually announced. On the parade route there are food/drink trucks and music trucks. The music tucks are so you can dance the day away and the food/drink trucks are so you can keep the dancing going. With the exception if Caribana, carnivals serve alcohol on their trucks. Our truck had a lunch for us and mixers for our drinks- we stored Rum in waters bottles which the boys carried in their sacks. Shout out to the people on the drink trucks who were very attentive in keeping everyone hydrated!

I like to sum up my carnival experience as “Boobs, Butts & Feathers.” From an anthropological perspective, I am so grateful to have experienced something different than what I grew up with. However, Carnival is very tiring and features lots of drinking, something I usually don’t do. Would I do it again? Possibly in another city. Did I enjoy every minute of it? Absolutely!

 

Feeling (un)Lucky

Vegas, the city of luck or despair. Some get really lucky while here and others leave broke and in debt. No, my few days in Vegas didn’t leave me desolate, but it was ridden with a bout of food poison.

First, I did not travel to Vegas for the parties or gambling. I was there to check out a potential job and spend some time with my buddy Pete. When Pete picked me up from the airport at 9AM his time, I had already puked twice on the airplane. I thought it was a combination of sleep deprivation and a stuffy plane. Nope! For the next 12 hours I was passed out on Pete’s couch only getting up to run to the bathroom. I expected to puke in Vegas, but not on the way TO Vegas.
Once the puking subsided, I was able to enjoy the next few days, which included a visit to the Hoover Dam, the Pinball Hall of Fame, a speakeasy, and a walk through the Wynn casino, where I gambled on the slot machine in hopes of winning enough money to buy a pair of shoes.

I’ll definitely need to head back to Vegas but do it the way most people know-the party/puke combination.

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Still keeping a sense of humor through all the vomit

Klowny Con

The conversation began at work. The topic: Zombies. The idea came from a facebook search. The event: Zombie Clown Bar Crawl.

Creepy clowns have been terrorizing the world. For our protection, we went with Mimes. Creepy but not scary enough to be mistaken as legit terrors.

Tailgating through poetry 

The outlook could not have been more brilliant for the crew that day:

The weather stood at a cool 82, perfect for the adult children to play,

And then when Morgan came through with a gin bucket, and Stephanie did the same,

Smiles fell upon the tailgaters at this classic baseball game.

A straggling few awoke early for an hour long train ride,

Clung to the hope of day drinking with baseball on the side.

They thought “I don’t follow baseball nor care about either team,”

Except for one Miss Amy, dressed in Royals theme.


As the morning progressed, a larger crowd did yield

Both Erica and Moises preceded Jim’s arrival to the field.

And the former were proclaimed Yankees fans, while the latter was a sight,

For dressed from head to toe ‘Twas orange, blue and white.


The thing observed, which seemed self evident,

Surveyed while Shoshana and Allie partook in lawn merriment,

The number 2 highlight of the day was bocce ball;

The number 1 was seeing Frank all out sprawl!

But the game did eventually start, to the wonderment of all,

And from the parking lot to the stadium, the group aimlessly crawled;

And once their seats were taken by this wonderful, jovial herd,

Up on the big scoreboard it read “top of the third.”

There was an ease in Mike’s heart as he ate from Keith’s grill.

There was a pride in the stands during a home run thrill.

And when it was learned bars closed as the 7th inning started,

No stranger in the crowd questioned why Anthony departed.

There was no joy in Mudville when Casey, might Casey, struck out,But he didn’t have friends like mine, and that’s without a doubt.

Peace, love, and tailgates.

My Return to Stockholm

 

One of my earliest posts was my 11 day journey to Stockholm to visit a very close friend. This summer, I returned to Stockholm for a much shorter trip. I arrive Thursday morning. The Arlanda express left me a few blocks away from my hotel, The Sheraton Stockholm. Having learned from my last trip, I knew to skip the kiosk line in the airport to buy my ticket and bought it on the platform (pending you have a chip and pin card, not a chip and signature).

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Me and Mt. Anders

My tallest friend also lives in Stockholm. I made it a priority to see him. It really is great having friends in cities where I am a stranger. They know all the best places. We grabbed a coffee and chatted, or the Swedish term “Fika.” Our chit-chat was cut short because I was meeting my other friend for a rooftop tour! This was very cool and highly recommended for a different Swedish experience.

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I blinked on purpose #lies

I am not one for walking or bike tours. Who am I kidding? I love historical tours, but I don’t want to put in the effort to move. In this case, the tour was done atop of the parliament building. We were strapped in and walked a predetermined path while our guide pointed out famous areas and historical buildings.
The remainder of my trip was spent doing non-touristy things. I did a lot of biking champagne drinking. My friends even taught me how to sabre a champagne bottle. Having dinner with my friend and her family, at their home, surrounded by love, was the best moment of the trip. Now the funniest moment, however, was when we went to “Bersa and Bulle.”

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Wine in hand with my game face on

My Swedish friend began to describe the game of “Bulle” She said “You throw one ball then you have to get your ball closest to it.” “Bocce” I said. “No, it’s different. It’s Bulle,” No, it was the Swedish version of Bocce, a game I, as an Italian American, grew up playing. I was the overall winner, with a little help from my Sangria.
Sadly, my journey came to an end that Sunday. Such a short trip, but a very full filling and magical journey as they all seem to be.

The American Desert

I very much enjoyed the Grand Canyon. First, my hotel was fantastic (as usual) thanks to my best friend’s connections.

By 10AM, I was poolside and tanning. The server, Jason, knew to keep the mojitos coming. Reading, sunning, and mojitos are all categorized under “perfect.” In the same column is also my massage. I booked a Pima healing massage.

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The Sheraton property I stayed on is leased land from the Pima Indians. I was technically on a reservation. And if I was unsure, the casino was a give away. My Pima massage was done by a member of the Pima tribe which focuses on Pima healing techniques. I called it an early night because in the morning my tour was picking me up for THE GRAND CANYON!IMG_0917

Seeing the canyon was worth the long drive from my Phoenix hotel. I had a great tour guide, who even came back after dropping me off because i forgot my favorite jean jacket.

What did I pack? Whatever could fit in my longchamp purse: a dress, shirt, a bathing suit, sandals and 2 pairs of underwear. Travel made simple!

I took a red eye flight back to Charolette where I luckily caught an earlier flight to La Guardia. I was showered and asleep before my parents woke. Despite the difficulty getting there, it was a grand trip.

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Helicopter ride over the canyon

 

A Grand Trip to The Canyon (Delayed)

This Labor Day weekend (LDW) I found myself at the Grand Canyon. My best friend was at a wedding, my other friend was in Boston, and D was on a romantic weekend. That’s when I realized, I only have about 3 friends…

I proudly decided, on the Wednesday before the holiday, I would take a trip. Thanks to my coworker’s suggestion, it would be the Grand Canyon.  I booked my ticket on US Airways, not heeding the warnings of friends who have sworn off the airline.

I promptly showed up to the airport. When dad drove away I received a phone call- my plane was delayed almost 2 hours. No worries! I would make friends at the bar- I always do. I spoke with several people over the phone and in person, who assured me I would not miss my flight from Charlotte to Phoenix because my “plane is the aircraft traveling on from CLT to PHX.”  I gladly sipped my sangria and adopted the bartender as my temporary boyfriend.IMG_0896

When my tipsy self-boarded the plane, the gate agent informed me I would have a plane change. WHAT?! I spoke with the purser who so aptly informed me “Sugar, you ain’t making that plane.” All I could do at this point was go to sleep for the next hour and half on the plane.

I did, in fact, miss the plane. And due to some pretty crappy airline laws, US Airways claimed it was weather related. Absolute BS! I’ve taken a few law classes in my undergrad years, plus I’m a “cute” girl. My goal in this situation was to not get a free flight or an upgrade, but to secure a free hotel (since I landed in CLT at 23:00.)

People were going nuts and being escorted by security. I’m normally not a crier, especially in public place, however my exhaustion from the week, and the pitcher of sangria were exactly what I needed at that moment. I employed the Socratic method, looking all doe eyed and confused until finally my tears welled up and one tear rolled down my face as I said “I just want a safe place to rest my head.”

BINGO!!

That night I enjoyed a bed at Four Points and my flight in the morning had me poolside by 10AM.