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Polaroid of the week: Breaking Through The Berlin Wall

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week berlin wallApologies for the lack of updates in the past couple of weeks – I’ve finally tackled the big website update that has been overdue for months, but the transition to my new mobile-friendly site design didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped for. Please bare with me as I am ironing out the remaining glitches, bugs and errors – I have plenty of posts waiting to be published.

Hello from Berlin! Just like New York, Berlin now feels like home to me. I spent enough time in the city over the past few years to know my way around, to navigate the comprehensive transportation network (buses, trams, overground trains, underground trains) without getting lost, I have favorite coffee shops and even a co-working space here. And this time, I even found the way to my AirBnb apartment without a map after my Google Maps app stopped working. I’d almost say that after New York, Berlin feels like my second home now.

And just like last summer, I proudly showed off this awesome city to a visitor – my first of two visitors from NYC! And this one is joining me for the fourth time this year, which I am stoked about! We must have walked at least 20 miles all over Berlin this weekend, exploring my favorite neighborhoods, devouring traditional German breakfasts, strolling over weekend flea markets and taking in German history at the Berlin Wall. And the best way to learn about Berlin’s complicated history? In combination with some street art! A walk along the East Side Gallery, Germany’s longest still standing piece of the Berlin wall, nearly a mile long (1.3km) was of course the highlight for two street art lovers, and traveling with a fellow photographer also meant playing with our cameras a little more than I’ve been doing on recent trips, and I was excited to pursue a little Polaroid project that I had been wanting to do for a while – you’re getting a little sneak peek here.

The featured photo, a Trabant breaking through the car by artist Birgit Kinder, commemorates the car that was ubiquitous in East Germany as well as the opening of the wall, and is one of the most iconic murals on the wall which was painted by artists from 21 different countries. Each artist expressed his or her reaction, thoughts and visions after the historic changes in 1990 and the painted wall was made into an open air gallery, the East Side Gallery, which is now one of the most visited memorials in Berlin. This is the first time ever that I’ve seen this and other famous murals not being covered in silly scribbles and drawings by tourists eager to immortalize themselves on the Berlin Wall – usually it looks like this. But this year, I happen to be in town while the wall is getting its annual clean-up and renovation. I am curious to see what the freshly cleaned murals will look like in a couple of weeks when I am taking my next visitor there!

Follow my Berlin adventures in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city bushwick street artWhen I arrived in New York last week, I was told that I had brought summer with me. Apparently, it had been cold and rainy most of the spring until the weekend of my arrival – and hearing this made me feel reassured again about having spent all of May in Austin (in case you haven’t noticed yet – I’ve got a major case of FOMO and ‘scarifying’ a month in New York for four weeks in Austin wasn’t an easy decision for me to make!). To be honest, I was considering extending my stay in Austin for another three weeks (yes, I loved it that much – more on that to come next week) but then my travel plans were changed by circumstances beyond my control (more on that soon).

And that’s why I ended up spending only eight days in my adopted home. Knowing that my time in New York would be short and sweet, the goal was to make the most of it. This meant: make sure to have a decent New York bagel (check), have a pizza at Roberta’s (check, and it was so worth nearly missing my flight for it! Still my favorite pizza spot in NYC.), see some new street art in Bushwick, go to Smorgasburg for some street food, see the spring blossoms in Central Park, catch up with friends. Well these were all the things I that I managed to fit in – my actual list was, as usual, much more ambitious than what I could actually fit into a short week, but I also managed to fit in a daily run in Prospect Park, bike rides through Brooklyn, I checked out a brunch place I’ve wanted to go to for a while (Cheryl’s Global Soul, thumbs up). It felt amazing to be ‘home’, to see my friends, just to be part of life in the Big Apple again.

What else did I get up to? I checked out a few new ‘coffices‘, had two wild nights out, soaked up the sun in Madison Square Park, made time for a stroll through the West Village (one of my favorite neighborhoods), and I even ended up at Dominique Ansel Kitchen (unplanned, which made it even better), which is a pastry lover’s dream, and where I last went for a birthday treat last winter, for a chocolate nutella swirl croissant (just as indulgent as it sounds) and scoped out a couple of Middle Eastern places I hadn’t been to yet (thumbs up for both Taim and Kulushkat.

The last two got me excited for my next destination: the next Polaroid Of The Week will be coming to you from BERLIN (where I’ll be stuffing myself with as much Middle Eastern food as possible for eight glorious days and welcome a very special visitor).

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7 Fun Facts About Copenhagen (& Why You Should Visit Denmark’s Capital!)

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Last year I used Skyscanner’s regional search function to find a cheap flight to the U.S. You simply type in the region that you want to fly out of (or into) and hit the search button, and it shows you the cheapest options. In my case, that was ‘Europe’. And there it was, a flight from Copenhagen to L.A. for $249. Perfect! CopenhagenNot only did I score a fantastic flight deal, but I was also excited that I’d be able to check out a country I’d been wanting to visit for a while – ever since I’d read that Danes were rated the happiest people on the planet (two years in a row, by the way!), and since I’d learned about ‘hygge’, which I think is pretty similar to the German word ‘Gemuetlichkeit’, coziness, but a little bit better. It translates to ‘cozy feeling of togetherness’. No wonder that Danes are the happiest people on earth, when they have this cozy feeling of togetherness all the time. I wanted to experience it for myself, and I was happy that I had an excuse to finally visit Copenhagen.

copenhagen churchAnd because I think Copenhagen makes for a perfect city break, I want to share some quirky facts about Denmark’s capital with you that I hope will intrigue you to visit Copenhagen:

copenhagen mermaid

1 Cycling is huge in Copenhagen

55% of Copenhageners commute to work by bicycle. 55%!! Isn’t that amazing? And that’s not only during the summer months – that’s year round, rain or shine! The Netherlands might be known as a cycle nation, but the Danish are just as active as the nearby Dutch. And it’s quite a sight to see the mad traffic in the bike lanes during commuting rush hour!

copenhagen bicycle

2 Copenhagen has a self-governing freetown

The autonomous ‘Freetown’ Christiana is home to about 1,000 residents and is a self-governing part of Copenhagen that sits just outside the city center. Christiana residents don’t pay taxes and run the ‘freetown’ according to their own laws, most famously the selling and using of marijuana. While visitors are welcome here, cameras and cars are not allowed inside.

Copenhagen lovelocks

3 The longest pedestrian shopping street in the world

Copenhagen is home to the longest pedestrian shopping street in the entire world, Stroget. You’ll find plenty of international brands here, but also smaller Danish chains, where you can pick up some unique souvenirs from Denmark.

Copenhagen Denmark

4 Green Capital

That sure goes along with the aforementioned cycling – Copenhagen is incredibly green, as in eco-friendly. So much so that it was rewarded with the title of Green Capital Of The Year in 2014. The city actually aims to become the most cycle-friendly city in the world! And it doesn’t stop there: Copenhagen aims to become the world’s first CO2 neutral capital by 2025. Around 64% of the city’s hotel rooms are certified as eco-friendly, and ¾ of food served in public institutions is organic.

copenhagen spring flowers

5 You can’t pay with Euros

Surprisingly enough, Denmark is part of the EU, but they don’t use the Euro. Isntead, you pay with Danish Krone.

copenhagen colorful houses

6 Canals galore

Another similarity to the Netherlands is that the city is ringed by canals. Nyhavn is the most famous one, but the area of Christianshavn has so many canals that it carries the nickname ‘Little Amsterdam’.

copenhagen

5 Fifteen (!) Michelin Stars

For a city of its size – Copenhagen has a population of just over half a million – Denmark’s capital has a surprisingly high number of Michelin Stars – 15 altogether! The most famous Michelin Star restaurant is Noma, which serves exquisite new Nordic cuisine and has been awarded the title as the best restaurant in the world four times! If you’re a gourmand, make sure to reserve a table well before you get here.

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6 An amusement park right in the city

Tivoli is Denmark’s second oldest amusement park (the oldest one, Bakken, is about an hour north of Copenhagen) and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The rides here are all old-school – the oldest roller coaster is over 100 years old – making it the most endearing and charming amusement park you’ll ever visit.

copenhagen denmark

7 Danes are coffee lovers

On the list of countries with the highest coffee consumption, Denmark takes #7 with 5.3 kg per capita, which comes to about 1.5 cups per day. This explains the high number of excellent coffee shops in Copenhagen – make sure to stop at one and have a cup of outstanding coffee – like most of Scandinavia, Denmark’s baristas take pride in preparing exclusively high-quality cups of Joe. And if you are a coffee lover too, here are 8 coffee shops in Copenhagen you need to visit!

copenhagen kaffe

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Polaroid of the week: Sunset over Austin, Texas

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa texas austin sunsetI have to apologize if I’m getting on your nerves with my constant ravings about Austin – I’ve already sang the city’s praises here and here – and I can’t stop gushing about Texas’ quirky capital. I arrived in New York last week and have been enthusiastically talking about how great Austin is ever since my plane touched down here, almost forgetting that I’m in my favorite city in the world.

But my last week in Austin was a great one, and I finally got the local introduction to the city that I had hoped for: from someone who had lived in Austin for many years and knew the city inside out. Together, we hit up some of East Austin’s coolest bars (including the fabulous Weather Up bar, which I learned had a branch in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, just around the corner from where I lived two years ago – not sure how I had missed that place back then!), I was introduced to the magic of pinball arcades (I need to bring them to NYC – so much fun!), finally watched a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse while enjoying craft beers and a surprisingly tasty meal, wishing I could always enjoy restaurant service and booze in a movie theater (apparently Brooklyn is getting an Alamo Drafthouse in a few weeks – I am excited!), and had a midnight diner meal at the Magnolia Cafe which came to fame thanks to the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

And then my last night rolled around, and my love affair with Austin came to an abrupt end. It ended on a high note, however: after the weather had been pretty bad all week, with lots of rain, thunderstorms and even flooding, the sun came out again for my last evening in town. I went for my usual evening run along the Colorado River and was rewarded with this sunset – making me feel all fuzzy and warm inside. Austin, I’ll definitely be back – thank you for the amazing time!

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: May 2016 Edition

May 2016

In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. 

Where I’ve been

This month I spent between three US cities I love: New York, Austin and Tucson. I also road tripped through the Southwest, visited Dallas for the first time, and spent time with some amazing people. Overall, a great month.May 2016 Arizona Texas

May Highlights

Spending nearly a month in Austin

Austin had been on my travel wish list for a while, but I always knew that I wanted to dedicate some time to exploring the city, not just a long weekend. After all, Austin is known to be a foodie city and I had more restaurant and bar recommendations than I could possibly check out in a month, let alone a weekend. And so I didn’t have to think long when a housesitting opportunity for nearly four weeks came up. And I am so glad that I spent so much time in Austin – it quickly became one of my favorite cities in the US, and I even could see myself returning for a longer stint (although I feel like I’m cheating on NYC just by saying this out loud!). You can read all the things that made me fall for Austin here: Polaroid of the week: Wonderfully weird AustinAustin Texas

First time SUPing

I had several people come visit me in Austin which meant: a good excuse to do a lot of sightseeing. We kayaked on the river, checked out some museums, hiked in the Barton Creek Greenbelt (basically a forest area in the city with lots of hiking trails), bar hopped our way through Austin’s nightlife districts, sampled food trucks, went on a wine tasting trip to the Texas Hill Country, watched the flight of the bats, and saw live music. But my favorite thing? Finally going stand-up paddling, something I’ve been wanting to try for a while now. And I had a blast! I am pretty sure that this is something I’ll be incorporating more often into my travels from now on, and I’m already contemplating where I could try it out on the ocean (which I feel will be much harder than on the calm Colorado River in Austin!). I think that this could happen in California later this year. And then: SUP yoga. Okay, who am I kidding here.. I don’t think I have a good enough balance for a headstand on a paddle board, but who knows.stand up paddling austin

Road tripping through the Southwest

I was supposed to fly from Tucson to Austin, but at the very last minute, the opportunity for a road trip with a travel buddy arose, and of course I jumped on it. We decided to break up the long drive (900 miles) into three days: to White Sands, New Mexico on the first day, Big Bend National Park the second day to hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, and then the remaining distance to Austin on day 3.

While this plan didn’t quite work out as planned (see What Went Wrong below), it was a fantastic road trip. I love the barren scenery of the Southwest, returning to White Sands was everything I hoped for, and I had great company – which was important, especially on the long drag of the I-10 from El Paso to Fredericksburg, which doesn’t have any road side attractions and is apparently the most boring part of the I-10 (which runs from coast to coast).Road Trip May 2016

Returning to White Sands

I loved the white dunes of White Sands when I visited this desert in the south of New Mexico in 2013, and I loved it the second time around, too. Even though I’d been here before, the dozens upon dozens of dunes, the bright white sand, the solitude and tranquility of this place – everything had me in awe again. And this time around, I got to experience two things I missed out on when I came here during my New Mexico road trip – I got to sled down some of the dunes, and I got to see the sunset. Would I visit White Sands a third time? Absolutely!White Sands New Mexico

Exploring Dallas

If you read last week’s Polaroid, you already know that Dallas wasn’t really on my list of must-see places, but I am not one to turn down an opportunity to check out a new city, and so I found myself in Dallas for a weekend – and pleasantly surprised by the city! Dallas, as it turns out, is way cooler than I thought it’d be, and I regretted immediately that I hadn’t allowed more time for my visit. I loved especially Deep Ellum, a trendy neighborhood with clubs, bars and great restaurants, and I hope I’ll get the chance to return one day to explore more of Dallas.Deep Ellum Dallas

What went wrong

Road trip fail

We were on our way to Big Bend National Park on Day 2 of our road trip, had finally left the quite boring I-10 and were driving towards the Mexican border when on the completely deserted road a Prada Store appeared on the right side. A Prada store in the middle of nowhere?! It had been about twenty minutes since we even saw the last house! Of course we had to stop to photograph the store. And that’s when I realized that my camera bag wasn’t in the car. We had driven for three hours from Las Cruces and were two hours from Big Bend. I knew exactly where I’d seen the bag the last time: Under the desk in our hotel room in Las Cruces. Shoot. What to do?!

prada art store texas
The Prada ‘store’ in the middle of nowhere

In the end, we decided to drive the three hours back to Las Cruces, because a) I didn’t want to go to Big Bend without my camera gear and b) I was afraid that my gear would get damaged or lost in the mail if i asked the hotel to ship it to Austin, and I had just replaced my lens that broke after the attempted robbery in Mexico City last month. And so we drove back to Las Cruces, on the most boring stretch of the I-10, only to drive it again, for the third time, the next day. Oh well.. I guess it could have been worse, and luckily we discovered it not only in Big Bend, which would have meant a five hour drive back to Las Cruces.

However – I kept thinking how lucky I was to not have lost all of my camera gear – this could have ended much worse than with an additional 6 or 7 hours in the car.road trip

A broken screen

You might have noticed by now that I’m just not very good with electronics.. I lose them, I break them, I washed them (a USB stick, not too long ago), and this month it was the screen of my beloved iPhone that had to stand in for this category. My phone falls .. often.. But this month, I finally managed to break the screen (something I hadn’t done in a while) – and not just crack the screen, but really break it.

broken iphone
Ouch.

Emotional roller coaster

…and that’s all I am going to say about it. Or to borrow Taylor’s words: ‘Heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly.’ That song was playing a lot on the radio this month and I could relate well to this line.heartbreak is the national anthem

Financial struggles

I don’t want to go into detail here either, but let’s just say that the life of a freelancer is not always as glamorous as it might seem. I get to travel a lot, yes, but trust me, I don’t make a lot of money, and this month was a tough one.May 2016 pics

What’s next for me

An unexpected change of plans

I am only spending a few days in NYC before I’m flying to Germany! I had no plans to visit my home country until October, but a sudden turn of events is bringing me back to Europe for a while. Unfortunately I can’t talk about the details just yet, but I hope I can shed some light on the recent events in next month’s round-up or in July at the latest. Let’s just say that this could be life changing, and I am not exaggerating here.

Of course I’m super bummed out about missing on some fun in the sun in NYC (y’all know by now how much I love my New York summers) but 1) I hope I’ll be back stateside soon and 2) it’s not the last time that there’s summer in NYC and 3) I already have a pretty packed calendar for Germany, and one confirmed visitor for a week of fun in Berlin, a place that I also happen to love in the summer!May 2016 NYC Austin

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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Deep Ellum, Dallas

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa texas dallas deep ellum street artI love it when I visit a place without any expectations and end up being pleasantly surprised. And I happened to visit one such place this month. A place I never even thought I’d visit: Dallas. In my head, Dallas was a big, personality-lacking, dull, corporate kind-of-city.

Instead, I found a city filled with interesting attractions, a fantastic restaurant scene, great bars, street art (even more than in much more alternative Austin!).

To be honest, I didn’t even plan to visit any other Texan cities while I was in Austin, but as so often, the opportunity to go up there for the weekend arose suddenly, and I jumped on it, because.. Why not? And I already began to think that I should’ve allocated more time to exploring Dallas when I, upon researching cool stuff to check out in Dallas, came across this list of 50 free fun things to do in Dallas of which I wanted to check out over a dozen! All I got during this brief weekend trip was a teaser of the city, and the desire to come back for more (which is luckily extremely likely to happen if I get to spend more time in Austin in the future, which I’d love).

I didn’t fit in much more than wandering around the Arts District, some of the historic downtown, Thanks-Giving Square, Fountain Place, Klyde Warren Park, and finally spending an evening of bar and restaurant hopping in Deep Ellum, but this was enough to make me realize that Dallas is much cooler than I thought it was.

Especially Deep Ellum, a trendy, young neighborhood filled with street art, great eateries and cool craft beer bars, impressed me, and I learned that the former warehouse district is also the epicenter of Dallas’ live music scene. The name Deep Ellum is an adaptation of southern black dialect for ‘deep Elm Street’ and you find 42 music venues here, ranging from blues to jazz to alternative music, thanks to which the neighborhood got the nickname ‘Little New Orleans’.

Thanks for surprising me in such a good way, Dallas, and I hope I’ll see you soon again – I promise, I’ll bring more time!

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Polaroid of the week: Wonderfully weird Austin

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polaroid of the week usa texas austin graffiti parkOh, Austin… I don’t even know where to start.. This city has swept me off my feet the minute I got here! Over the years, I’ve been told by several people that I should go and check out Austin because I’d like it and it was ,my kind of city’ (and that’s what piqued my curiosity and made me eventually come here!). And yes, they were absolutely right!

So what’s ‘Dani’s kind of city’, you’re asking? A green city. A city known for its giant food truck scene. A city filled with craft beer bars, some of which have over 100 (!!) beers on tap. A city with more live music venues I could possibly visit in a month. A dog friendly city where dogs have their own little beaches along the river. A city that has wonderfully weird celebrations such as Eeyore’s Birthday (an annual hippie festival that takes place on the last Saturday in April). A city where apartment complexes don’t only come with communal swimming pools and BBQ areas, but also with kayak parking lots and their own docks on the river. A city where there are more kayaks and SUPs on the river than cars on the road (who am I kidding, the traffic in Austin is definitely something that we need to work on.. but still: on weekends, there are so many kayaks and SUPs on the river that it seems like half of Austin is out on the Colorado River). A bike friendly city. With a bike sharing system, even! A city with a forest filled with hiking trails inside the city limits. A city with great weather – year-round! (New York, I still love you, but I sure could do without your winters…). A city with impressive art museums. A city with a thriving coffee shop culture. A city with a giant store dedicated entirely to hot sauce (help, I’m spending all my money here!). A city with a winery and a whole wine country nearby. A city with enough mouthwatering food to make me gain five pounds (and I’m not done yet!). A city where you people gather in a dive bar on Sundays to play chicken shit bingo. A city with hipster bars that make me think ‘Am I in Austin or am I in Brooklyn?’ A city with speakeasy bars. A city with the most decadent doughnuts I’ve ever seen. A city with street art.

Okay, about the street art: there is by far more street art in other cities I’ve been to, but pictured above is the Hope Outdoor Gallery, sometimes also referred to as Graffiti Park, where it is legal to spray graffiti. Every time I went there, I saw young girls practice their skills, couples working on pieces together, experienced graffiti artists adding a new mural. How many cities do have an area like this, where people can simply come and do graffiti work? In terms of being a ‘gallery’ – it’s a gallery where the collection of art changes constantly. And in addition to being an outlet for artists, this place also offers fantastic city views of Downtown Austin, especially when the sunset skies paint the buildings in warm golden colors.

Yes, it’s official: Austin, I’ve got a huge crush on you.

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Top five places to see the fall colors in New England

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Summer is almost here, which means I can finally get started on my autumn travel plans! You might remember that last year after returning to New York I tried to finally make it up to New England to see the spectacular autumn colors up there, a trip I had on my travel wish list for many years. However, I never made it beyond Upstate New York last fall, which turned out to be a beautiful, colorful trip nonetheless, but left me still longing for the New England fall colors, which are said to be the most vibrant ones.fall leaf bear mountainEspecially Vermont, where you find many maple trees, whose leaves turn into a striking scarlet color in the fall, is a must for anyone who loves the feeling of fall, and I hope 2016 is the year where I’ll finally get to experience the much talked about New England fall colors. These small states in the north east of the US (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island), named after the 17th century English settlements, do not only offer breathtaking fall colors, by the way, but also some of the quaintest coastal towns in the US, the quintessential small town feel and gorgeous landscapes, and thanks to their compact size, can easily be combined into one trip. This part of the US is not only popular with Americans during that time – people flock here from all over the world in the fall, there are even British companies that offer organized trips to experience the beauty of the autumn colours in New England.new york fall foliage road trip barnI have put together a list of the top five places to see the fall colors in New England – must visit destination for any passionate leaf peeper:

1 The Green Mountain Byway (Vermont Route 100), Vermont

Vermont is every leaf peeper’s dream come true: 80% of the state are covered in forest, making for an explosion of colors in the fall that begs to be photographed. The Green Mountain Byway is a scenic byway that is best visited during the second week of October, when the maple leaves reach their brightest scarlet. The road goes past mountains and farms, through Green Mountain National Forest, and connects the picturesque small towns of Stowe and Waterbury, which are both worth a stop.Fall Color in Vermont

2 The White Mountains, New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, the White Mountains make for an unforgettable road trip with views of the Presidential Range and Mount Washington, which is New England’s highest peak at 6,288ft. There are stunningly beautiful vistas at every turn of the winding road, and along the way you can eat in small, family-run restaurants and sleep in charming, old-fashioned inns. The most famous roads here are Route 302, which passes through Crawford Notch, a beautiful valley where yellow-leafed birches and scarlet-colored maple leaves are perched along the hillsides, and the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112), a scenic byway that crosses the White Mountains from East to West.

3 The Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts

The winding roads of the Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts offer some of the best vistas for leaf peepers – the road gets quite busy during the weekends in October, but that’s for a reason! The Mohawk Trail goes through the Berkshires and offers an array of trees that will leave you in awe for sure: birch, maples, beech, ash, dogwood, oak, sassafras and tulip trees all contribute to a colorful leaf cover along the road. In addition to the fall colors, artsy small towns contribute to the charming atmosphere of this region – make sure to stop in North Adams, which even has a Fall Foliage Festival each year in early October, stop in historic Greenfield where the 3-story lookout at the Poet’s Seat Tower provides magnificent vistas, and take a short detour in Charlemont to the impressive Bissell Covered Bridge.Mohawk Trail Fall Colors

4 Route 7, Connecticut

Route 7 is the main north-south artery through western New England, and 78 miles of the 313 mile long route go through Connecticut. The most scenic part starts in New Milford, going north. The town of Kent has been voted the Number One spot to see the fall colors in all of New England, and not far from there, Kent Falls State Park in Litchfield County offers a short, but lovely hike to a 250 feet tall waterfall, which is even more striking when it is surrounded by brilliant autumn colors. Make sure to stop at the West Cornwall Covered Bridge further north, and in Litchfield, a delightful little town with art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops worth a visit.

5 Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. No matter where you find yourself in the park, you’ll be wowed by unforgettable vistas of the rocky coastline, the mountains, little lakes and lush forests. Mount Desert Island is famous for its historic carriage paths – make sure to plan in time for a stroll along these trails as well as a visit to Seal Cove, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Bar Harbor, all located on the island. If you continue your trip westwards along the coast of Maine you’ll get to the nearby Schoodic Peninsula, which also makes for a scenic drive.Otter Point HDR 02

Photo credit: (1) Vermont fall colors by Albert de Bruijn; (2) Mohawk Trail by akarnik; (3) Otter Point, Acadia National Park by Jim Dollar. All photos used via Flickr’s Creative Commons License.
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Six things nobody tells you about Colombia’s Totumo Mud Volcano

totumo volcano dani1

If you find yourself in Cartagena, chances are that you’ll come across posters advertising the Totumo Mud Volcano. It’s sort of a rite of passage in Cartagena – if you come here, you’ll visit the volcano. So obviously, I signed up for a tour, not sure if it would be fun to take a mud bath with a bunch of strangers or not.. But what could I do? The Cartagena rite of passage, you know?totumo mud volcano colombiaAnd so I found myself in a mini van with 16 strangers on a sunny Sunday afternoon, ready to join the thousands before me, getting a mud bath in a volcano. Once you get there though, you quickly realize that this isn’t really a volcano filled with mud, it’s more like an upside down cone filled with mud. There were other things that nobody told me before I headed to Totumo, things I would have been glad to know before I go, which is why I’m going to share six of them with you right here:totumo mud volcano advertisement

1. You’ll get up close and personal with strangers

The mud volcano is actually closer to a puddle of mud than anything else, but picture a really really deep one, maybe even bottomless. If you take a tour to Totumo, like most people do, because it’s the cheapest and easiest way from Cartagena, you and 16 fellow mud enthusiasts will change into their swimsuits and head up the ‘volcano’. One by one, you’ll descend into the mud, slowly going down a ladder from the top, because the mud is much lower than shown in the pretty advertising posters around town. The mud used to reach up to the top of the ‘volcano’, and I’m not sure where it all went but you have to descend a good 20-16 feet (6-8 meters) now to get into the creamy, smelly mud. Considering that there are several guys selling bottles of this good ol’ mud at the bottom of the volcano, they might have sold all the mud that used to fill up the volcano, but who knows. Anyway, once you’re in the mud, be prepared to be groped by some Colombian dudes who are spending all day waiting inside this mud hole, eager to massage white people for a small fee (COP4,000).

One by one, the rest of your group will join you, or maybe you are one of the lucky ones last in line, looking down sceptically on everyone floating in the mud, wondering if you really want to get in there. But as the mud hole fills up, you’ll quickly befriend everybody else because you all realize what a ridiculous situation you are in, and the fuller it gets, the closer you’ll get to everyone. I felt quite a few hairy legs, boobs, feet and other body parts while I was floating around, thinking to myself how weird it was that I wasn’t sinking.

Pro Tip: Don’t be one of the fools who dip their entire head into the mud – there’s nothing to clean the mud off your eyes, and your hands are muddy, too!dani mud volcano totumo

2. You might not make it out alivetotumo mud volcano ladder

Once you decide that you’ve had enough, you will try to make your way out of the mud, which now that the mud hole is quite deep means relying on a rickety old wooden ladder, which is extremely slippery, thanks to all the mud monsters who’ve made their way out of there before you. So hold onto the rails for your dear life – literally! The story of how you conquered a mud volcano is a good one, but you have to make it out alive to live to tell it.

3. Prepare to be studied and stared at

totumo volcano daniOne thing that was interesting was that during my visit, several tour buses pulled up. At first I thought: wow, it’ll take forever for them all to take a mud bath, because the hole doesn’t fit a 48 people bus load, and a minivan load of 17 already takes a while to get in. But then I realized that they don’t come to take a mud bath. Instead, the Latinos walk up to the rim, stare at the gringos (including you!), snap your picture, and then walk down again after pointing at you and chatting about you with their fellow observers. They’re probably thinking: Why the hell do these gringos pay so much money to get into this stinky puddle, ruin their swimsuits in mud and get their hair all muddy? It feels particularly humiliating when you’re the one who is in the process of emerging from the mud, looking like a mud monster, and have a guy grope you to get some of the mud off you with his hands before you make your way down to the cleaning area… Yes, cleaning area.

4. Lots of groping!

Even though there is a huge lake next to the ‘volcano’, you can’t just jump in and wash the mud off – it is too shallow, and so the business-savvy Colombians who live around here set up a few giant jars near the lake which some guys keep filling with bucket loads of green water that they get out of the lake.

When you arrive there, a lady will grab you and start washing the mud off you with the help of a little bowl, in which she puts the green lake water from the big jar. These ladies are also not afraid to touch your private parts, and I’m sure the lady who washed me enjoyed my boobs, that’s how intensely she was rubbing them. They’re also not afraid to just take your swimsuit off if they feel there’s a lot of mud in there – my friend found herself without her bikini top within a couple of minutes of getting to the cleaning area, while another lady tried to get into her pants pull down her pants. That’s the moment when you get really close with all of your new mud friends – you’ll see much more of them than you expected.totumo mud volcano cleaning area

5. You’ll hand out tips right and left

Once you’re released, you go back to your belongings which are stored in a little storage room while you frolic in the mud, and suddenly, everyone who has helped you with something, appears and wants to be tipped. The guy who held your camera? $1. The lady who washed you? $1. The kid who watched your shoes? $1. The guy who massaged you? $1 (amazingly cheap massage, btw!). It was incredible how everyone who did something for you finds you again afterwards and makes sure he or she gets paid. In all the tipping mania I even tipped a kid who didn’t do anything other than holding his hand open! ‘But he didn’t do anything for us‘, my friend pointed out. ‘Oh.. Well he just made 50 cents by simply holding his hand open.totumo volcano dani

6. Mmmmh that smell…

When you’re finally back in the van, you’ll be able to enjoy the sulfur smell for another hour (at least, depending on traffic in Cartagena) because you think they cleaned you, but as a matter of fact you’ll still find mud in the most random body parts for days (if you’re one of the lucky ones whose accommodation in Cartagena has hot water: this is when you’ll truly appreciate it!)

In total, you’ll spend more time in the van than in the mud, by the way. Our van showed up half an hour late and then picked up other mud-hungry tourists around town for another hour (!) before we were finally on the way. The ride takes about an hour once you leave the city and an hour back. You’ll spend about an hour at the volcano, including cleaning, changing and a quick beer to get rid of the taste of mud in your mouth. There are two tours to the volcano every day; one leaves in the morning, and one leaves in the afternoon.totumo mud volcano colombia

Cost:

  • Tour to the volcano: COP45,000 (US$13.82)
  • Tip for guy who takes your pictures: COP4,000 (US$1.28)
  • Tip for woman who washes you: COP4,000 (US$1.28)
  • Tip for the guy who massages you: COP4,000 (US$1.28)
  • Tip for the kid who cleans your shoes: COP1,000-2,000 (US$0.37-0.64)
  • Beer (optional): COP3,000 (US$0.92)
  • Uniqueness of the experience: priceless.

*Exchange rate 2016
totumo volcano dani

Other practical information

Is there another way to get to the volcano?

Yes, you can take a cab to the volcano if you don’t like crowds. If you time it right (early afternoon would be best, I think, before the arrival of the afternoon group), you’ll most likely have the volcano all to yourself. It’s worth it if you are a group of four people; expect to pay at least COP200,000 for the cab, including return to Cartagena and the driver waiting for you while you splash around in the mud.

Are there different tour companies offering this tour?

At the moment, there’s only one tour company who runs this tour: Ruta ecologica. You can book the trip from most hotels and hostels and your offices around town. Pickup is usually where you book it. The price (COP45,000/ around US$14) includes transportation and a snack of fresh watermelon after the mud bath. The company has a little area with changing rooms, toilets and showers (don’t expect more than a trickle) right next to the volcano, complete with lockers where you can lock up your valuables.

Can you trust a random guide with your camera / phone?

This was my biggest concern, but their system works. Our group’s camera guy had thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment around his neck and in his fanny pack – all our phones, goPros, dSLRs and regular cameras. He’s going to snap 10 – 15 pictures of you. I took a few extra ones on my camera before we left. You have no chance but handing over your camera, by the way, if you want to eternalize the picture of your mud-covered self.totumo mud volcano colombia

What to bring / what not to bring

totumo mud volcanoOld bikini
Bring an old bikini – unless you have the chance to wash it the same day. The mud turned out to be pretty persistent and I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my best swimsuit.

Water & Sunscreen
The volcano itself doesn’t offer any shade, so make sure you bring sunscreen and water to stay hydrated. There are some kiosks and small roadside restaurants around the volcano where you can buy snacks and soft drinks or beers after the experience.

Money
Bring enough cash (and small change) to cover all your tips, but I wouldn’t bring too much cash or any valuables that you don’t need (credit cards, jewelry, etc).

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Polaroid of the week: White Sands, New Mexico

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polaroid of the week usa new mexico 2016 white sandsFor my road trip from Tucson to Austin I was stoked about the two stops me and my passenger would make along the way: Big Bend National Park in Texas for the Santa Elena Canyon hike, and White Sands in New Mexico, which I had already visited during my New Mexico road trip a few years ago, and which I loved. That shouldn’t come as a surprise – White Sands is a desert after all, and as many of you know I love deserts. White Sands with its bright white dunes is truly special, something I’ve never seen anywhere in the world (not even on photos of deserts around the world, but tell me if you know of any other white deserts so that I can add them to my travel wish list!).

I was excited to go on another hike in White Sands – and this time in a bit cooler weather (last time I came here it was over 100°F /38°C and we actually had to turn around before finishing the trail). Even though dune after dune might seem repetitive, no dune is like the other, and every time you climb up a dune, you have yet another sweeping view ahead of you. Most of the desert is unvegetated, but there are some desert flowers in White Sands which remind you of the fact that what you are walking on used to be the bottom of a massive lake covering 1,600 square miles during the last ice age. The contrast between the bright blue skies and the white sand makes for some great photo opps, and I ended up with over 600 photos of my day at White Sands, even though it was my second time there!

It was, however, my first sunset – something I really wanted to photograph. We watched the sun go down behind the mountains from the top of a dune, slowly coloring the white sand in a soft glowing pink, and quickly leaving us feeling cold. It might be over 100°F during the day, but the desert sure gets cold at night. We ran back through the dunes to the parking lot, now understanding why so many people get lost here, despite the posts that stick out of the sand in regular intervals to mark several ‘trails’ in the dunefield. In the dark, we could barely make out the posts (which are already hard to spot in bright daylight sometimes) and got a bit nervous if we were following the right direction. In the end, we made it back to the parking lot though and finished our day in White Sands with a picnic in one of the futuristic picnic areas.

I felt lucky that I got to visit this remote place not only one, but two times – and I wouldn’t mind returning for a third visit.

For more photos of White Sands, check out my photo essay: New Mexico’s White Desert: The bright and beautiful White Sands

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