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33 things I love about Austin

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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 LĂ„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: Wonderfully weird Austin

Polaroid of the week

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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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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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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Polaroid of the week: San Xavier del Bac – a Spanish colonial mission in Southern Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona san xavier del bac missionReturning to Arizona felt as glorious as ever! As usual, I am housesitting here – but this time, for different homeowners. I’m enjoying the company of a different dog and a different pool, but I am in the same neighborhood in the Catalina foothills which I love, and funnily enough it is just as hot as it is when I’m here in May. Tucson is experiencing unseasonably warm weather at the moment, I’ve been told.

I usually come to Arizona for a month of peace and quiet, and to catch up on work projects that I don’t get around to when I’m on the road, but this year, I’ve been busier than usual. I’ve been more social than I was on previous visits, making more of an effort to make new friends here, and have them show me some cool spots around town, because Tucson’s restaurant scene keeps growing. I also got to catch up with old friends over wine and cheese and have been taking advantage of my well equipped and spacious kitchen which almost makes me want to stop traveling and set up a home base. Almost.

The highlight of the week? Katie came to visit me for a few days and I introduced her to some of my favorite spots around here: we hiked in Sabino Canyon and in Saguaro National Park (and after finding this website listing all the hikes around Tucson I think I’ll never get bored here – so many hikes I haven’t done yet!), and we visited the beautiful San Xavier Del Bac Mission, pictured above, which is the oldest European structure in Arizona, filled with striking original 18th century statuary and mural paintings.

Katie and I even made it to the famous western town of Tombstone (Boothill Graveyard visit included, of course!) as well as Bisbee, a former mining town close to the Mexican border that reinvented itself as an artist commune, which I love to visit, not only for the little town itself, but also for what can be best described as ghost town: Lowell, where you find an entire street with empty store fronts and vintage cars parked out front. I wouldn’t have gone all the way down there by myself, so yay for visitors!

And especially fun visitors like Katie, who is up for hiking even when it’s over 90°F (32°C) out, who loves craft beer even more than I do (maaaaybe!) and who insisted we visit a county fair. Both of us not being from the U.S. meant this was our first introduction to deep-fried everything (deep-fried Oreos or cheesecake I might be able to get behind, but deep-fried butter.. really?) and other not-so-healthy fair snacks (funnel cake!), but which also turned out to be a fascinating anthropological study. I didn’t go on any of the rides, but I tried a deep-fried Snickers bar (so not worth $6, if you ask me), and it was a fun way to end our time here in Arizona together.

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7 Famous Landmarks of LA & Hollywood You Have to See

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As one of the most iconic places on Earth, Los Angeles deserves its grand name. It truly feels like the City of Angels, especially when surrounded by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

Whether you’re wowed by the prospect of meeting your favorite celebrities in person, or seeing them immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’re not leaving until you’ve seen it all.

If you’re visiting LA and Tinseltown, these are the famous landmarks you have to see.los angeles street

The Hollywood Walk of Fame

What’s so special about the Hollywood Walk of Fame? From abroad, it may be difficult to see the irresistible appeal of a mile long trail.

But the Hollywood Walk of Fame is simply breathtaking. Over 2 500 stars, each celebrating a Hollywood legend, bring home the significance of where you are. They’re a living history of La La Land, and the modern entertainment industry.

With millions of visitors following the route every year, and buskers and vendors setting up shop, it is a vibrant, exciting experience.Will Smith Footprints

Hollywood Sign

There is perhaps no other sign as recognizable as the Hollywood Sign. Anyone born in the last century has a special attachment to it. So much so that when the sign was rebuilt, after a 3 month absence, the coverage of its unveiling was watched by 60 million people around the world! And this was before live coverage could be broadcast even to the furthest corners of the globe.Hollywood

Venice Beach

Moving away from the silver screen, let’s give a quick mention to LA’s most beloved beach. Venice Beach is such an important part of Western culture, that since 1996 live visuals have been streamed online. It’s always summer at Venice Beach. Although be warned that the weather can be temperamental, so be sure to bring a jersey!Work out beach

The Venice Ocean Front Walk – the “Boardwalk”

The Boardwalk is the perfect place to take in LA culture. With visitors from all over the world, year round, there is an eclectic mix between the local and the foreign. Performers are to be found every few steps. Bring a few dollar bills as tips!venice street art

Universal Studios Hollywood

This Los Angeles film studio and amusement park is a must-see. Guided tours, rides, famous characters, oh my! It’s a film lover’s paradise, with Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Transformers, and even Hogwarts to keep you busy all day.santa monica sunset pier

Staples Center

If you get the chance, go to an event at the famed Staples Center. Sports events are a great way to take in American culture. Concerts performed by a wide range of artists are a special treat. There are plenty of things to do in the area before and after the event, so that you can make the most out of your day.View over L.A. with Hollywood Bowl

Disneyland

No list would be complete without mentioning Disneyland. The most coveted theme park in the world, just the name has had children’s hearts racing since it was opened in 1955. There are countless videos on YouTube of kids’ reactions to their parents’ announcements. And it’s not only special for the kids.

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Polaroid of the week: Goodbye, Brooklyn (for now…)

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city yo sculptureAnd all of a sudden, it is here.. my last weekend in New York City. I am, as usual, not ready to leave, but there’s no denying that winter has arrived on the East Coast, the balmy temperatures that we had on Christmas Eve seem like forever ago, and I still don’t like winter. I have been coping with it much better than I thought though, even braving the chilly weather and still rode my bicycle around Brooklyn a lot, went running in the park, but there were a few days that were so cold (19F/-12C, but it felt much colder ‘thanks’ to arctic winds) that I started counting down the days until I’d arrive on Colombia’s sunny Caribbean beaches. I’ve also (finally!) started to research my trip in more detail, which helped getting me excited about leaving and exploring a country that I’ve been wanting to visit for such a long time now.

So what have I been up to over the past  seven days? It was a week filled with goodbyes – I was trying to see all of my friends before leaving, stuffed myself with all my favorite foods (I might even have fit in two of my favorite NYC pizza places in the past few days..), walked the High Line on a sunny day (and discovered spring blossoms!), splurged on drinks in a fancy rooftop bar, finally visited the Museum Of The Moving Image, which had been on my to-do-list for a long time, went on a booze cruise around Manhattan, hosted a dinner party, had afternoon tea at Alice’s Tea Cup (which had also been on my to-do-list for a while..), and hung out in one of my favorite places in New York – Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I took the above picture (a sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Deborah Kass, which was installed a couple of months ago). I admit, I prefer summer sunset dates or lazy afternoon on a blanket with a book there, but my two visits to the park last week got me excited for the summer months – and the view is always striking, no matter what time of year it is.

So farewell New York (for now!), and my next Polaroid will come to you from Cartagena!

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