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33 things I love about Austin

austin

I spent nearly a month in Austin and I’ve already mentioned in my monthly round-up that I’ve got a huge crush on Texas’ quirky capital – who knew that a city in Texas of all places could sweep me off my feet the way that Austin did. I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in the U.S. during the past 6 years, including numerous road trips that brought me to dozens of U.S. cities – but I don’t think I’ve ever declared that I am so enamored with a place that I could see myself live there – that has always been NYC’s prerogative. But I think I might want to make an exception for Austin. Why? Well, let me share 33 of the things that I love about Austin…austin texas street art

1 The food trucks

Of course, for me as a foodie, a city with dozens of food trucks is a culinary paradise. Even if I had tried to eat at a different food truck every day during my month long visit, I wouldn’t have been able to cover them all. Which means I’ll have to come back to continue my quest to try all of them. My favorite so far? Gourdough’s Big.Fat.Doughnuts. Yes, I have a sweet tooth, and I don’t eat BBQ (or any kind of meat), so it’s a dessert food truck that takes the crown (for now). If you’re visiting Austin and are wondering which food trucks are the best, here are 10 food trucks you need to visit in Austin and if you still have room for more, 17 essential food trucks in Austin.Food Trucks in Austin Texas

2 The weather

I don’t think any city could ever come close to how much I love New York, but Austin did impress me a lot – and one point where it wins over NYC is without a doubt the weather. While my friends in New York were still wearing scarfs and winter jackets at the beginning of May, I was sweating by the pool. And months of ice and snow? Not in Austin! It’s not rare to have temperatures in the 80s here during the winter months. Perfect.austin pool

3 An outdoors-y city

I read that Austin’s one of the most active cities in the US, and yes, I always saw people being active: kayaking, SUPing, swimming, rowing, climbing, running, cycling, hiking.. I love how many hiking trails there are within the city limits or just outside of them, and how many people were on the river doing some sort of water sport every weekend.austin stand up paddling

4 The Colorado River

Not only do I love the river that runs through Austin (although I could’ve done without the water snake that chased me while I was blissfully paddling on my board) but also how well developed its shores are. You can walk, run or cycle on each side for miles, there are bars and restaurants right by the water, and there are plenty of things to do on the river, as mentioned in #3. I love being by the water, and I ended up almost daily by the Colorado River – either running, walking or on the river.

Austin Colorado River Texas
I loved the lady who SUPd with her two dogs!

5 The craft beer scene

Austin has an amazing amount of craft beer bars and microbreweries – and if there’s a way to my heart, then it’s with sugar and craft beers. I loved sampling local Texan beers and micro brews from all over the US while I was in Austin, and I feel like I only scratched the surface! But I don’t think it’s impossible to ever work my way through all the beers that I can try in places like Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden or Growler (both with over 100 craft beers on tap) or the Ginger Man (with over 70 taps). If you’re looking to try some of Texas’ best brews, head to Craft Pride, with over 50 Texan beers on tap! Other favorites include: Draught House Pub & Brewery, Pinthouse Pizza, the Black Sheep Lodge and Easy Tiger.Craft Beers Austin

6 Decent pizza

After eating my way through many many of New York’s famous (and less famous, yet still fabulous) pizza joints, I have to admit that I’ve become a bit of a pizza snob. So it’s understandable that I was skeptical when I tried Home Slice, a pizza place that a lot of people had raved about. But guess what: It was definitely a good pizza! And days later I came across an article that the best pizza in all of Texas was actually coming from an Austin-based place as well: Via 313. While I didn’t get around to trying it before I left (another excuse to return!!) I trust the good reviews.austin pinthouse pizza1

7 Red River music district

The Red River music district, which basically means the live music venues on Red River Road, is THE place to be on weekends if you’re into live music. There are super famous venues like Stubb’s where bands like Metallica, Vampire Weekend or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have played, but also smaller venues like Mohawk and Cheap Charlie’s which had amazing live bands and a great atmosphere every time I was there.austin musicians

8 Speakeasy bars

Yes, I have a thing for speakeasy bars, and I was thrilled when I heard that Austin had several of these semi-secret, semi-hidden cocktail bars. I am still working my way through the lists of the best speakeasy bars in Austin, but I loved the sleek cocktails at the secret bar at the W hotel’s Living Room and ultra cool Garage. For more, check out 9 secret bars in Austin and how to get into each.

9 The sunset spot in Zilker Park

Zilker Park is Austin’s largest city park and not only that – it also offers great views over Downtown Austin. I loved the views from the little hill near the Rock Island, especially around sunset, when the high rises were bathed in a golden light.austin zilker park

10 Chicken Shit Bingo

Even though I never made it to the Little Longhorn Saloon, where people gather for Chicken Shit Bingo on Sunday nights, just knowing that such thing exists made me love Austin a little more.

11 The bats

Yes, you’ve read that right: bats! And Austin is not just home to a few bats, but 1.5 million of them, apparently (which is more than the city’s human population), making it the largest urban bat colony on the planet. Most of these bats live under the Congress Avenue Bridge and they fly out in huge droves every night just after sunset – a spectacular sight, because it takes over 30 minutes until all the bats have come out (you can’t help but ask yourself: where the heck are they all coming from!?). The flight of the bats is a tourist attraction, and while it gets fairly packed on top of the bridge and at a viewing area below every night, I think it is well worth joining the crowds. If you want to see this spectacle for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about the flight of the bats.austin bat watching

12 Unpretentious rooftop bars

Spending most of my time in NYC where rooftop bars usually mean feeling like sardines in a can and sipping on mediocre, overpriced drinks, I was amazed to see how wonderfully unpretentious Austin’s rooftop bars were. Sure, they’re lacking the views over Manhattan’s skyline, but Austin’s downtown buildings aren’t ugly either – especially lit up at night. The bars were barely ever crowded, not even on weekend nights, and drinks were reasonably priced. Some of my favorite spots were the Handle Bar, the Hangar Lounge and The Market.hangar bar austin

13 Apartment complexes with kayak docks

Austin has the already mentioned Colorado River (#4), and it seems like many Austinites appreciate the river just as much as I did, with a lot of locals having their own kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. I loved that when I walked by the apartment complexes right by the river, I discovered that not only do almost all of them have communal swimming pools (you hear that, NYC?) and BBQ areas, but also kayak docks right outside the apartments, and often there were kayak storage racks on the property. Being used to tiny New York apartments, where storing a bicycle can already be difficult, let alone a kayak!, I promised myself that if I ever move to Austin, it would be in one of those buildings, and I’d buy a kayak right away.austin kayakers

14 The thriving coffee shop scene

As someone who doesn’t only love coffee, but works remotely and thus spends a lot of time in coffee shops, I was over the moon when I discovered that Austin had a number of excellent ones! And one thing I particularly enjoyed: that most of them doubled as bars, like one of my favorites, Radio Coffee & Beer or Halcyon. There were too many coffee shops to try (here are 12 worth a visit) – another reason why I need to go back!halcyon coffee bar

15 Rainey Street

It seemed like 6th Street, Austin’s main bar drag, was frequented mainly by tourists, while the locals preferred other spots, such as the bars on Rainey Street which always attracted a large crowd of Austinites. The bars there are housed in little historic bungalows which have been fixed up and converted into cocktail bars. Most of them have big porches and/or backyards, which served as dance floors later at night. Plus, some of my favorite bars are on this street: the already mentioned Banger’s and Craft Pride, as well as the Container Bar, Javelina and Blackheart.austin blackheart bar

16 Pinball Arcades

One quirky thing about Austin are its old-fashioned pinball arcades – something I’ve never seen anywhere in this form: Large rooms filled with pinball machines, lined up side by side, ranging from vintage Metallica or Indiana Jones themed games to brand new Iron Man themed ones. Apparently such arcades used to be ubiquitous all over the U.S., but there are barely any left. Not in Austin though, where you can still spend a fun evening of pinball-ing and other games for only a few dollars in one of the city’s games arcades, most famously Pinballz. If you want to join the Pinball & gaming fun, here are five Austin arcades worth visiting.

17 Live music galore

I knew that Austin was a famous live music spot, but I had no idea that it had so many music venues. I got my fair share of live music performances while I was in the city and would come back for those alone. If you’re visiting Austin and want to enjoy some live music, check out this list of the 10 Best Places For Live Music in Austin (an excellent list) or The Guardian’s Top Ten Live Music Venues In Austin.austin live music texas

18 Public transportation

Okay, Austin’s public transportation is probably not perfect but it served me well. I happened to be in town when Uber and Lyft waved goodbye to Austin and wasn’t sure how I’d get around on boozy nights out after their departure. One of my friends told me that buses were actually pretty good, running all night and only costing $1.25 a ride, or $2.50 for a day ticket. Like I said – whenever I needed to use public transportation, it was fast and easy – something I can’t say about all of the US cities I’ve visited. (That said, I was happy to have a car during my time in Austin because most places are very spread out).

19 Barton Springs Pool

This massive pool is over three times longer than a football field (amazing if you want to swim some laps) and is fed by Main Barton Spring, the fourth largest natural spring in Texas. Austinites pay only $3, and you can stay as long as you want. It is the perfect place for a refreshing dip on a hot Texan summer day.barton springs pool

20 The Alamo Drafthouse

I know, a movie theater that has full restaurant service isn’t something that you find only in Austin, but I love that there are four (!) Alamo Drafthouses, and I thought that the beer menu was larger than the beer menu of some bars I’ve been to (not in Austin, of course!). Plus, some of the theaters seemed fairly new, which I appreciated after spending way too many evenings in New York’s one and only comparable cinema, the old and worn Nitehawk Cinema (note: If the rumors are true, Downtown Brooklyn will get an Alamo Drafthouse in 2016!). The best events in an Alamo Drafthouse theater aren’t the regular movies, by the way, but the sing-alongs, (80s and 90s themed? Yes!!) and quote-alongs.

21 Eeyore’s Birthday Party

A city that celebrates Eeyore’s birthday (yes, Eeyore as in Winnie the Pooh’s best friend!) in the form of a hippie festival – my kind of city, no question. At this festival, held in Pease Park on the last Saturday in April, you find hippies, weirdoes, kids, grandparents, and pretty much anyone who likes to dress up for a day. Everyone comes together to enjoy live music, games, food and drinks – and this has been happening since 1963!austin hope outdoor gallery1

22 Keep Austin Weird

That’s the city’s motto, so I don’t think I need to say more. But just a few things to show you how weird Austin is: #21, Eeysore’s Birthday Party, is a great example, but there is also a Museum of The Weird, a Cathedral of Junk, and for some reason, lamp posts that carry stuffed animals, a Christmas-themed bar (Lala’s Little Nugget), and the Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata (another museum full of weird stuff, run by a family and housed in a private home).Keep Austin Weird

23 There’s art… lots of it!

I love art, and frequent art galleries and museums on a regular basis. That’s why I was excited to discover that Austin has quite a few places that are a must for art lovers: the Blanton Museum Of Art, the Mexic-Arte Museum, the Jones Center (Contemporary Art, but currently undergoing renovations), the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and last but not least the trendy Yard Dog art gallery.austin umlauf sculpture garden

24 Doug Sahm Hill

Take a date there to marvel at the skyline of Downtown Austin and try NOT to fall in love (with your date or with Austin, I’ll leave that up to you). One of the most romantic moments I had was on Doug Sahm Hill. For a similarly awesome view check out Lou Neff Point, right on the river, where I took the picture below.austin sunset1

25 Bike Sharing

Any city that has a bike sharing system is a good city, and Austin is no exception. Plus, Austin is a bike-friendly city in general but for visitors who want to use them: Bcycles can be rented for $8 per day with an unlimited number of 30-minute rides, or $15 for three days which is perfect for anyone who’s spending a weekend in Austin!

downtown austin with river
You can cycle along the river for miles and miles

26 Festivals

Austin is a city of festivals – In addition to Eeyore’s big birthday bash (#21), the city celebrates music – of course most importantly SXSW (see #33), but there are also a great number of other music festivals (like Austin City Limits), plus festivals dedicated to spam, hot sauce, kites,.. to name just a few. And then there are festivals like the Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival, the Austin Rodeo, various street festivals and so much more.

27 Cheap Parking

Yes, this is another one that comes from my NYC perspective, but being used to seeing signs advertising 30-minute parking for ‘only’ roughly $11 (yes, Manhattan, I’m talking about you!), I was delighted to find cheap parking everywhere around the city. I think the most I paid was $1.25 per hour, and I even got to park for free (for two hours) right by the river for my daily workouts and also on 6th Street, the touristy bar drag of Austin – mind blown! Imagine pulling up right by Central Park or on Broadway and not having to pay for it.

Austin downtown texas
Cheap downtown parking… what’s not to love?!

28 Hope Outdoor Gallery

I love street art, and I appreciated the big murals around Austin, but my favorite place for graffiti was the Hope Outdoor Gallery, an abandoned construction site turned ‘paint park’. What was supposed to become a condominium complex but was never finished is now a concrete wasteland covered in colorful graffiti, tags and murals, with aspiring artists coming here to practice their skills. I love the concept, and you can pretty much always look over an artist’s shoulder while he or she is working on a piece.Austin Hope outdoor gallery Texas

29 The Highball karaoke bar

This is not just your regular ol’ karaoke bar – this is a karaoke bar that will turn even the biggest karaoke grinch into an enthusiastic singer. The Highball is famous for its themed rooms (there are seven of them), including a Black Lodge (of Twin Peaks fame), a scary room (think The Shining), or a satanic room for Black Metal lovers. I don’t even like karaoke, but kinda wanted to move in there!

30 Voodoo Doughnut

Even though Voodoo Doughnut was born in Portland, their Austin branch is nothing short of amazing and deserves a mention (I am obviously a huge doughnut fan, see #1). What surprised me the most wasn’t how delicious the donuts were but how cheap they were! Thanks for keeping your prices adequate, Voodoo, even in what I guess must be a pricey location right in the center of it all on 6th Street.Austin Voodoo Doughnut TexasIf you prefer savory over sweet, you might want to change #30 to breakfast tacos, which were perfected in Austin. These days, you can get a breakfast taco in too many places to try them all, but if you’re up for a challenge, Austin Eater recommends 24 essential breakfast tacos in Austin to work your way through.

31 Proximity to nature trails

I’ve already mentioned that Austinites are outdoorsy people, but the possibilities for hikes and other activities don’t stop at Austin’s city limits – there are so many things to do around Austin, I don’t think I’d ever get bored! If you need a break from the city, some of the nature trails around Austin you can escape to are the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Pedernales Falls, Hamilton Pool, McKinney Falls State Park, Bastrop State Park or Lake Travis.austin nature trails texasYou’re not into hiking? No problem! There’s plenty of other stuff to do around Austin: the Texas Hill Country which is great for road trips and has several wineries which can be toured, or San Marcos where you can float in a tube on the San Marcos River for hours.Austin Lake Travis

32 Avocado Margaritas

Need I say more?! I love avocados and I’m never one to turn down a margarita – combine those two and you know you’ll have me at ‘hello’ 😉 There are several restaurants and bars that offer this fine drink these days, but the very best avocado margarita can be enjoyed at Curra’s Grill, an institution in Austin’s Tex-Mex food scene and home of the original avocado margarita! If you don’t like the idea of avocado in your drink, don’t worry: there are plenty of other margaritas on the menu, and everything is so affordable. And it’s not only at Curra’s – I was generally overjoyed when I paid for my margaritas, which is about half of what I pay for a margarita in NYC.

austin craft beers
Because I didn’t take any margarita pictures… here’s one of the many beer flights I consumed in Austin.

33 SWSX

Yes, SWSX might be an industry event, but nonetheless it is one of the biggest music festivals in the US, with over 2,000 artists performing across 90 venues during four days in March. As a music lover, I love the whole idea behind SWSX and every year I find at least one new artist in the festival line-up that I adore (in recent years Emily Wolfe, Courtney Barnett, Sylvan Esso, Soak and LÃ¥psley).austin street art

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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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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 if that’s not enough, here are 33 things I love about Austin. 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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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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Polaroid of the week: Running Horses in Tucson, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona horses tucsonI’ve visited the Southwest five times over the past few years, but it took me until my 6th visit this year to finally visit a ranch, a real working dude ranch with a bunch of cowboys, horses, cattles – and all that back-dropped by the spectacular Southwest scenery: the barren Sonoran desert with its countless giant Saguaro cacti, dusty desert roads and rugged mountains.

It might have taken me six years to finally experience ranch life in the Southwest, but when I eventually got a glimpse of it, it was the finest of the finest: the fabulous White Stallion Ranch just outside Tucson, where my friend Lynn took me one morning to take photos of the horses as they were gathered in one huge enclosure and herded into another one by a group of wranglers.

The 5am wake-up call for this photography outing was painful, but the scene that unfolded when the cowboys entered the enclosure to bring the horses down together was incredibly beautiful: the morning sun was just rising above the mountain peaks, bathing the ranch in a warm, golden light. Then the horses started running slowly, getting faster, and finally galloping right by the gate where we had set up our cameras.

Afterwards, I toured the 3,000-acre cattle ranch which has been run by the True family for decades. I felt as if I had walked onto the movie set for an Old West movie, and I had to remind myself that the cowboys that were walking past us from time to time weren’t actors in costumes, but actual working wranglers and farm hands!

The ranch has 41 guest rooms, and people from all over the world come here for a true Old West experience: not only watching the cowboys and wranglers going about their daily duties, but also riding the horses, of course. After hearing there was a wine and cheese ride, during which guests are served a selection of cheese and a glass of wine right in the middle of the desert, I wished I hadn’t waited until my very last weekend in Arizona with my trip to the White Stallion Ranch – I was dying to get on the back of a horse!

While I didn’t get the chance to stay on the ranch this time around, I know that I’ll be back in Tucson and I hope I’ll get to experience the White Stallion Ranch again – and then I’d like to stay in one of their rooms right on the ranch, go out on rides through the desert and get my cowgirl on!

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Polaroid of the week: PowWow in Phoenix, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona powwowAfter spending my first weekend in Tucson with Katie, I had a surprise visitor in town for my second weekend, and VisitArizona had listed an event online that piqued our interest: a PowWow in Phoenix. A PowWow is a gathering of several Native American communities who perform their traditional dances and showcase their communities’ costumes, and not knowing much about Native American culture at all, despite several visits to the Southwest, including various Indian reservations, I decided that it was time to learn more about their culture and so we headed to Phoenix for the day.

A PowWow is traditional held so that Native Americans of different communities can meet, dance and sing together, make new friendships, and of course: preserve their heritage and culture. But there is usually a dancing and/or singing competition, in the case of the PowWow we went to, there were competitions for both. And so you don’t just get to see their incredible, elaborate outfits, but you’ll also hear the traditional songs and see them perform indigenous dances. I was wowed by all of it – the voices I heard, the grace and glory the dances were performed, and the intricate design of each tribe’s clothing, headdresses and ornamentation. There were buckskin dresses with hand-stitched designs, feathered bustles, breechcloths, colorful moccasins and bead work. Both men and women were wearing feathers in their hair, braids, roached hair (usually artificial), feather headdresses (men), fancy handmade shawls, breastplates, and each tribe had their own unique features that told them apart from the others.

Most of the dancers train all year for these powwows, and it was fascinating to watch them dance almost trance-like, to interact with each other, and to see them preserve their culture in a way I didn’t even know existed.

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