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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 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?!

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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.

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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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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2016 Edition

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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. April 2016

Where I’ve been

I began April in Mexico City, road tripped around Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and finished my month-long stay in Mexico on the tiny Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres. After a short stop in New York City (just enough time to say Hi to a dear friend and to stuff my face with a bagel, something I’d been craving for months!) I flew to Tucson, Arizona, where I am ending the month – but I am actually packing up my stuff right now, about to head out on a mini road trip to my next destination, but more on that below.April 2016 Mexico Arizona

What I’ve been up to

This month was supposed to be a relaxing one, at least the second half, but somehow I never slowed down.. Story of my life, I guess. I ended my time in Mexico City with a near disaster (more on that below), but also with a great weekend that involved a return to Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul, and a fun day in Coyoacan, market madness and lots of craft beer. Then I flew to Cancun where I met up with my favorite travel buddy (again, after traveling together in Colombia a couple of months ago) to road trip around the Yucatan, which just so happens to be one of my favorite parts of Mexico. For eight days, we swam in cenotes (underwater sinkholes), beach hopped along the Caribbean and got our culture fix by visiting several Mayan ruins before a chilled out island getaway in Isla Mujeres. And with that, my 3-month winter escape to Latin America came to an end..MexicoMid-April I found myself in New York for a minute before I jumped on a plane to Tucson for my fifth visit to southern Arizona since 2010. While I usually use these weeks of housesitting to catch up on work, this year it seems like I had much more ‘play time’ than work time.. First, my friend Katie came to visit me and I found myself frolicking around old western towns, hiking in between giant Saguaro cacti, revisiting the beautiful San Xavier del Bac Mission and sampling all the craft beer Tucson has to offer (well maybe not all of it, but quite a lot!) and then I had a surprise visitor distracting me with a visit to a PowWow (get together of Native American communities) in Phoenix and a sweaty canyon hike. Plus, I also finally made an effort to meet some new people in Tucson and caught up with friends I made on previous visits. And just like that, my three weeks here are over.. But I hope this wasn’t my last visit, because the more time I spend in Tucson, the harder I fall for the city, discovering more and more cool stuff.

Arizona

Highlights

Road tripping around the Yucatan

I spent hours planning this road trip, but in the end it was so worth all the sleepless nights and the effort that went into it: the road trip couldn’t have gone any better. Beginning with a fabulous stay at the exquisite Grand Hyatt in Playa Del Carmen to accident-free driving to introducing my favorite girl to really good Mexican food, not the stuff you get in the States!yucatan road trip
Desert hikes in southern Arizona

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much I love the desertscape of Southern Arizona – and I was happy that I had several visitors who got me out of the house to hike some of my favorite trails here and explore some new ones. Bonus: it’s spring, which means the cacti are blossoming, making the dessert look extra pretty.arizona desert hikes

Returning to Isla Mujeres

I fell in love with Isla Mujeres when I first visited the tiny Caribbean island in 2010, and I decided to spend an entire weekend there after our road trip – even though I had no idea if I’d still like the island after all these years of travel and all the places I’ve seen since then. Moreover, I didn’t know if Isla Mujeres had changed – had it become just as touristy and crowded as Playa del Carmen, a place I used to like a lot but that doesn’t do much for me now? I had nothing to worry about: Isla Mujeres was as charming as ever, and yes, it had become more touristy, but just look at these pictures… what’s not to love?!isla mujeres

What went right

Great publicity

Bild Der FrauThis month was an awesome month for publicity – An article about me appeared in one of Germany’s biggest women’s magazines, and I was featured by Lonely Planet! Being included in a list of the Top 50 Travel Bloggers was another pleasant surprise yesterday.

My first Mexican road trip

As I said above, my Mexican road trip was a blast, but it was also my first time renting a car in Mexico for longer than a day and driving on roads I hadn’t driven on prior to this visit. The only reason I was confident enough to sign up for this trip was because I remembered from living on the Riviera Maya in 2010 and 2012 that driving was a breeze in this part of Mexico, but I was still nervous if everything would go okay with the rental, if the route I had mapped out was too ambitious and if the car would be safe everywhere we parked it (sometimes with all our belongings inside). I am happy to report that everything went smoothly and without a glitch – and this road trip is perfect for anyone who wants to explore the Yucatan, so I’ll be writing about it in more detail soon.Mexico road trip

What went wrong

The almost robbery in Mexico City

My time in Mexico City almost ended with a tragedy – on my very last day in the city my friend and I were strolling through the big Saturday market that sprawls out into the streets surrounding La Merced, the city’s biggest market.

I was happily snapping some pictures and munching on a mango when all of a sudden I felt someone grab me from behind, wrapping his arms around my chest so that I couldn’t move my arms, while a second guy tried to rip my dSLR camera out of my right hand. Luckily I had strapped it around my wrist tightly and he couldn’t just grab it, and I started screaming like crazy. My friend pushed the guy who was holding me, and we both fell to the ground, I was holding my bag and camera tight to my body prepared to defend them, but they decided to run. My friend ran after them, not sure if they’d gotten anything from me or not, and saw them disappear into a courtyard right off the market. Knowing where these thieves lived we decided to get the police involved but they seemed a bit lackluster about the situation. They still came with us to the house, but told us they couldn’t go in without a permit / order.

I can’t believe how lucky I was – this could’ve ended much worse. I had my passport in my bag (required to go inside the National Palace which we had planned for that day), my Kindle, and a chunk of cash. However – I wasn’t entirely lucky during the incident: in the fall, I smashed my camera lens which died a slow death after the incident and had to be replaced, and I hit my big toe so hard that I was sure it was broken.

mexico city merced market dani
This picture was taken minutes before the attack happened…

The credit card scare

At the beginning of the month, I logged into my account to check the balance on my credit card. But what was that? In my ‘Account Summary’, my credit card didn’t show up! Where was my credit card balance?? I looked everywhere in my online banking account, but there was no sign of my credit card. No message either about it being blocked or something. It was midnight in Mexico, so I had to wait until the next morning to call my bank in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. How could my credit card simply disappear from my account?!

When I finally got hold of my bank the next morning, it took an hour on the phone with them to resolve what had happened – the card had been blocked after I the rental car company I rented with try to charge a $2,000 deposit for the car. Yes, these high deposits are customary here in Mexico.. And so my bank put a flag on the account.

dani isla mujeres
Dealing with British banks makes me want to RUN.

I lost more things… And this time, really expensive things.

The ‘lost items’ section seems to evolve into a running segment in my monthly round-ups, much to my dismay. After losing clothes and my Sennheiser headphones last month, and my Kindle charger as well as camera charger the month before, this month’s loss was very tragic: I left my beloved $300 JBL headphones on the flight from New York to Chicago on my way to Tucson. When I realized what had happened while waiting for my connecting flight, I immediately ran back to the gate I’d arrived on, but I was told nothing had been handed in. Oh well, I guess somebody else is enjoying these amazing headphones now.

And not only did I lose my headphones in transit, I also managed to leave my belt behind in Cancun when I took it off to go through security in the airport. Only on the plane did I notice that I was suddenly belt-less! I really hope May goes by without me losing something.

isla mujeres dani cliffs
If I lose anything next month, I might jump off a cliff

What went almost wrong

The almost missed ferry & almost missed flight

For my last night in Mexico, I had booked a hotel near the airport in Cancun, because we were leaving on a super early flight the next morning. The plan was to spend the entire day on Isla Mujeres and head back to the mainland just to sleep there – why waste a day in Cancun when we can spend it in this island paradise? I had seen online that ferries were running until late at night, which was perfect for us – that way, we could even have dinner on Isla Mujeres!

But when we, happily stuffed with tacos, made our way to the ferry terminal around 8pm, we arrived to complete darkness – the terminal was closed! I panicked immediately, knowing that the first morning ferry wouldn’t run until 5am – too late for us to make it to the airport and to catch our flight. I started to hyperventilate, because neither my friend nor I could miss that flight the next morning. In my head, I already saw us pay for a private boat to the mainland, and ran over to a taxi driver to find out if there might be a car ferry or another way to get off the island that night, and he simply pointed to the ferry terminal next to the one we were at. Yes, this one had closed for the night, but the main one was still open. I almost suffered a heart attack in that near-travel fail, thinking I had screwed up and maybe ferries weren’t going late on Sundays. Luckily, everything went according to plan when we finally boarded the ferry.

isla mujeres sunset - Copy
The sunset was worth missing the ferry for

As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we then nearly missed our flight even though we were at the airport two hours prior to our flight departure – and just because we were chatting at the gate waiting for the flight to board.. Our conversation was so deep that we forgot to pay attention and somehow missed that everyone had already boarded – they were ready to close the doors! Luckily we noticed that we were the only ones left in the departure area before the plane departed.

What’s next for me

I am finishing up my housesit in Tucson and am almost on my way to the next housesit: a month in Austin, Texas! I’ve been wanting to visit Austin for years, so when this opportunity came my way, I didn’t have to think long.

And because my travel plans aligned with those of a travel buddy I am finding myself now road tripping from Tucson to Austin, stopping along the way at one of the most remarkable places I’ve visited in the US, the stunning white desert of White Sands in New Mexico (which I hope I’ll get to photograph at sunset this time around) and in Big Bend National Park for a day of hiking before eating my way through Austin for the next few weeks. If you know Austin and have recommendations for restaurants, food trucks, craft beer bars and things to do, please share them in the comments!tucson cowboy hatsYou can follow along in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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