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Polaroid Of The Week: Snowy New York City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week USA New York City Brooklyn Bridge Park WinterAfter returning from Israel, I only had a few short days in Germany before I boarded a flight back to New York – just enough time to pack up my clothes and a few other belongings I wanted to bring to New York with me and hug my friends and family goodbye.

When I arrived in New York, I learned that I’d been lucky – had I flown a day later, I wouldn’t have made it to New York, because a massive blizzard hit the city, causing over 1,700 flights across all three airports to get canceled. That blizzard was the first real snowstorm I’ve ever witnessed! Yes, of course we get snow in Germany, but not like this. Seeing the city get covered in 10 inches (30 centimeters) of snow in the span of a few short hours was an incredible experience for me – I was amazed to see how quickly New York transformed into a winter wonderland. I watched the spectacle from the inside of a warm coffee shop while I was working and couldn’t resist taking a couple of walks through the snow, even though I decided NOT to bring my winter jacket with me to New York (I brought a vest because I figured it’d be enough for my last few days of winter). The novelty of the experience made me forget how cold it was and I adored the quietness of Manhattan in the snow – I don’t think I’ve ever seen New York that silent.

Yesterday, I woke up to bright blue skies and lots of sun, which made the winter storm the day before almost seem like a dream. Even though I am not the biggest fan of running in the snow I put my running clothes on and went for a jog along the East River. It was just too perfect of a winter day to not enjoy the views over Manhattan – another first for me, a winter run in New York.

This will be as much as I am getting of winter in New York – I am escaping the cold weather and won’t be returning until the spring! My next Polaroid will be coming to you from Ecuador, my first new country of 2017.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Feelin’ beachy in New York

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week new york riis beachThis week was all about beaches – simply because it is too hot to do anything else! New York is suffering from / enjoying a heatwave – the perspective depends on who you ask, I guess, but I might be the only one who’d say this is enjoyable, and admittedly, it has been a little too hot even for my taste.

Working two jobs at the moment means I didn’t have much time to explore this week, but I managed to visit three different beaches: the small beach in Red Hook, just a short drive from where I’m staying, which is the perfect place to let my pup cool off in the water for a while, and Riis Beach in the Rockaways, where I’d been wanting to go for a long time (I’ve been to the Rockaways before, but only to another part of the beach there).

And my beachy highlight this week: Fire Island! This 32-mile-long, ¼-mile wide  strip of sand (the longest of four barrier islands that protect the South Shore of Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean) had been on my travel wish list for the past two summers, but somehow I never made it out there (it takes about 2.5 hours incl car & ferry ride to get there from NYC). But this week, there was the perfect opportunity to finally get my a** over to the island when a friend celebrated her birthday there. It was just a quick teaser and I didn’t get to experience any of the gay night life that Fire Island is famous for, which means I have to return soon, I guess! But the quick visit did definitely whet my appetite for more  – it was the perfect city break, and I didn’t even bring my laptop over there, which means it almost felt like a vacation to me.

If New York stays as sweltering hot as it’s been these past few days, I might need to plan another beach getaway for next week…

Newsletter subscribers: I sent out the summer edition of my Beyond the Blog newsletter last week – if you haven’t seen it in your inbox, make sure to check your spam folder. I’ve got some exclusive giveaways for newsletter subscribers which you can still enter. (If you’d like to subscribe, you can do that here)

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Life lately & upcoming travels: January 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. 

What a month it’s been! I wrapped up my time in New York City and flew to Colombia, my first new country of 2016. I was traveling with someone for the first couple of weeks, which means I traveled a lot faster than I would’ve had I been by myself, but it also meant going on some adventures that wouldn’t have been half as much fun had I been on my own.

January 2016 Colombia and New York City
From New York (with spring blossoms in January!) to the sweltering heat of Colombia

What I’ve been up to

I started the New Year with a relaxing day in Brooklyn, cuddling with my (temporary) cats and generally taking things slow before my departure. I was cat sitting for a friend of mine who happens to have one of the most gorgeous apartments I’ve come across in New York, complete with a giant kitchen where I tried my hands on all kinds of recipes and enjoyed my daily baking and cooking sessions.

I finally made some time to relax, which I’d been wanting to do for months! Movie nights, long sessions in the bathtub with my Kindle, long runs in the park while listening to my favorite podcasts. I was lucky with the weather – while I was still in New York, it was still warm enough to run outside without freezing to death, and more importantly: warm enough to cycle! If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I love cycling and I was happily reunited with my bike last month.New York January 2016And then it was time to leave for Colombia. As usual, I started travel planning at the eleventh hour, running last minute errands the day before I left, ordered stuff on Amazon on 2-day delivery, hoping it would arrive in time (and picking it up from the post office literally 5 minutes before they closed), and not knowing where I’d rest my head upon arriving in Cartagena until a few short days before leaving the U.S. Some things never change 🙂

My travels through Colombia started in the north, in Cartagena to be precise. Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular (read: touristy) cities, and it’s popular for a reason – It has a well preserved and beautifully restored historic center, surrounded by thick, centuries-old stone walls that used to protect the city. I couldn’t have picked a better place to start my Colombia explorations in than this Spanish colonial city that sits right on the Caribbean Sea. I spent hours walking the narrow streets, marveling at the wooden balconies, usually overflowing with bougainvillea, and colorful houses. In fact, I am writing this from Cartagena, even though I was supposed to leave already (twice!), but I kept extending my stay. cartagenaFrom Cartagena, we set off on a whirlwind tour of the coast, stopping in Tayrona National Park, the beach paradise of Palomino, and a detour into the mountains before circling back to Cartagena with a visit to nearby Playa Blanca and the famed Totumo mud volcano.

While this might all sound fabulous, let me tell you that this month didn’t go by without any hiccups – you can read them below in ‘What went wrong’… but let’s start with the January highlights!Colombia January 2016

Highlights

River tubing in Palomino, Colombia I don’t know how I’ve spent 35 years on this planet without ever going tubing! But somehow I just never came across it, even in all those years of travel (except for Belize, where we had to skip it due to heavy rains and Laos, where we passed on visiting the back then notorious party town of Vang Vieng). Anyway – trying it for the first time in Colombia was perfect. We slowly floated down a river that comes down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains,  surrounded by lush green jungles on all sides, and finally empties into the Caribbean Sea. Extra bonus: doing it in the late afternoon when the light was warm and soft. The only sounds we heard were the sounds of the jungle. Heavenly!palomino tubingTraveling with my favorite travel buddy As I mentioned above, I had a travel buddy for my first two weeks in Colombia, and it was such a fun trip! Yes, I might not have gotten as much work done as I wanted and traveled faster than I’m comfortable with, but I had such a great time and I think it made it easier to ease into South America again. This was our fourth trip together and we’re already planning our next getaway – can’t wait!

Being a housewife in New York I had such a good time in New York before I left – even though the last few days were freezing (19F/-12C) and I realized I hadn’t been in weather that cold since my visit to Chicago for Christmas in 2007! I was definitely ready for sun and beach fun by the time my departure date rolled around, but I loved having a temporary home with an amazing kitchen. Knowing that I wouldn’t have the chance to bake, cook or have people over for a while now, I made the most of it, and tried my hand at all sorts of recipes I’ve been pinning onto my Pinterest recipes board. I also made sure to eat all the foods I knew I’d miss in South America, like a decent Thai meal, veggie sushi, a bagel, New York pizza and Mexican breakfast. Guys, you have no idea how ready I am to have my own kitchen again and go from full-time nomad to part-time traveler!

cooking in nyc
Still can’t believe that this egg-in-a-biscuit turned out great on my first try making it.

Winning a Margarita Maker You might remember that I won two round-trip tickets on Singapore Airlines (NYC to Singapore) in November, and my winning streak doesn’t seem to stop. At the beginning of the month I received an email that I’d won a Margaritavilla Margarita Maker, worth $300! I am usually not a Tequila drinker but it looks like I should give margaritas another chance?!

Receiving a package from my sister
This was definitely a highlight of the month – I received a package from Germany, and I got it the day before I left for Colombia. Talk about good timing! It was supposed to arrive in time for Christmas, but my chocolate Santa still tasted amazing mid-January, and I was so touched that my sister had sent me a few little gifts for Christmas.

Lowlights

Self-imposed stress
I am not sure why I always do that to myself… I had weeks, if not MONTHS in New York to plan my South America trip, and yet I ended up procrastinating until the very last minute, not even picking up a guidebook until about a week before my trip to look up where I wanted to go. Once I held said guidebook in my hands, I decided spontaneously to do a 5-day jungle trek while here, and found myself scrambling to get everything I needed for this trek – most of which arrived in a package from Amazon which I picked up from the post office minutes before they closed on the night prior to my departure, as I’ve already mentioned.

Colombia vacation
Luckily all this helped me de-stress quickly!

Reading horror stories about Colombia the day before my departure Let me tell you: it’s not the greatest idea to read an article titled Solo Female Going To Colombia? Just don’t. while you’re in the middle of packing your bags for COLOMBIA. This, along with another scary story by a female solo traveler who’d recently visited Colombia, totally freaked me out and I left for Colombia slightly scared – not a great mindset to start a trip with! Luckily I had company for the first couple of weeks, which calmed me down quite a bit.

Forgetting to pack important things I don’t know how I forgot to pack some essentials like my Swiss army knife (necessary to cut fresh fruit), Ziploc bags (for all kinds of things), but more importantly my underwater camera and my second external hard drive!!

Not winning the lottery With my recent lucky streak when it comes to winning things, of course I had to buy a ticket for the $900 million Powerball lottery (and then again for the $1.2 billion). Needless to say I didn’t win.

marilyn and dani
This girl helped me getting over not winning the Powerball.

What went wrong

A bungalow break-in in Palomino My first day in Palomino was off to a great start: I’d worked until late into the night the evening before so that I could take time off and enjoy the beach. And that’s what we did… a lovely morning spent walking the beach and playing in the waves, and we were ready for some river tubing in the afternoon. We dropped by our beach bungalow to drop off some stuff and I froze when I unlocked the door and saw that all our bags had been emptied and the entirety of our belongings was strewn across the floor.

Every little bag we had with us had been opened, and my heart dropped when I remembered that I had left our laptops, passports, credit cards and a lot of cash in my backpack. As my eyes fell on my backpack, I saw that it was still locked! They hadn’t opened the main compartment which I had locked with a padlock. We assume that they were interrupted because they seemed to have left in a rush, and they also didn’t find some cash in one of the cosmetics bags they were searching through. How lucky were we?! While this was definitely a scary moment (and could’ve ended my entire trip right there and then!), I don’t put Colombia down for it – something like this happens everywhere in the world.

beautiful colombia
Celebrating the good side of Colombia

Food poisoning It all started so well: with the best meal we’ve had in Colombia so far. Both dishes we ordered, plus the coconut lemonade, were divine. I even proclaimed ‘I’m going back here for lunch every day now!’ when we left, and my friend was mad that I hadn’t brought her to ‘La Mulata’ earlier, which is a popular and highly-ranked Caribbean restaurant in Cartagena. However, four hours later, I started to vomit like crazy, had stomach cramps, diarrhea, the whole nine yards. I was bed ridden for 24 hours and it took me another two days to get back to normal. The last time I had food poisoning that bad was in 2011!

coconut lemonade cartagena
I’m pretty sure that this is what caused the food poisoning, because we both got it, and that’s the only thing we shared

Not being allowed to board my flight because I didn’t have proof of onward travel Well this seems to be an ongoing theme in my life – not being allowed to board a flight, see last March and last May. When I was checking my bag at JFK I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane since I didn’t have a return ticket or proof of onward travel. Obviously my own fault, I should’ve learned by now to at least look up if a country requires a return ticket before entering it on a one-way ticket. Again, stress that I didn’t need when I frantically tried to book a refundable ticket while discussing with the airline staff at the check-in counter. Luckily, the booking went through in time and I was handed a boarding pass.

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Almost would’ve had to stay here! Not that I would’ve been too upset 😉

Losing stuff I don’t know how I could have possibly lost two of my most important items within two weeks of being on the road: my Canon charger (I left it plugged in a socket at the cabana after the break-in, with an expensive Canon battery in it. Luckily I have two spare batteries.) and my Kindle charger (also left plugged in somewhere). I also lost my favorite tank top (not my fault, the laundry lady lost it), and I’m sure there are some other things that I can’t remember now.

Challenges

Getting back into a travel work balance Having spent 10 weeks in a productive routine in New York before leaving for Colombia, I really struggled to get back into a work-and-travel state of mind. Plus: I just don’t seem to be lucky when it comes to finding accommodation with decent wifi. 4 out of 5 times the wi-fi is mediocre at best, and often doesn’t reach my room. Several of the hotels I stayed at closed their common areas at 8pm, which is when I usually start getting a few hours of work in! In the past couple of days, I’ve found myself walking around town in search of a ‘coffice’ two days in a row this week – one day, I went to five different places! The first one had wifi but no AC (not even a fan, and it’s 91F right now), the second one had wi-fi but no sockets, the third place was completely full, the fourth had AC but no wi-fi, and the fifth one was finally decent, except for the terrible music they were playing. I am tired of it.. I just want to start my work day without wasting time and energy finding an office.

And then there’s the temptation to ‘play’ all day instead of working when you travel with someone, and I am easily convinced to go out exploring instead of staring at my screen, yes, I admit it. I’ve gotten better at finding a balance, but it’s taken me a while to get back into working & traveling.

colombia january 2016 pics
Colombia might give me a headache with the lack of speedy wi-fi, but it does have its perks..

What’s next for me

I’ve got an exciting month ahead of me! I’ll finally leave Cartagena tomorrow, after extending my stay twice, and head back to Santa Marta, from where I’ll set off on the 5-day jungle trek to the Lost City, which is an archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada. It is believed to have been founded about 800 CE, making it 650 years older than Machu Picchu! I’m stoked for my first multi-day trek in a while.

After that, I’ll fly to Bogota to meet up with my friend Rease, and from there I’m not sure yet, but I’ll just go with the flow… Who knows where I’ll be writing my next update from. colombiaP.S. You can follow my travels in real time on Snapchat (user ID mariposa2711), see my travel updates on Facebook and daily photos of my trip on Instagram.

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Polaroid of the week: Harlem Meer on a sunny December day

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polaroid usa new york city central park harlem meerI already had a hard time getting into a Christmas spirit last week, and the spring-like temperatures this week didn’t really help getting me in the mood for the Holidays. With 72°F (22°C) temperatures, Christmas Eve was as warm as this year’s 4th July in New York City, heat records were broken and cherry trees were blossoming. I am beginning to think we might be skipping winter this year and heading straight into spring, which, in my perfect world, would be exactly what would happen, but I’m worrying too much about our environment and climate change to having truly appreciated the unseasonably warm Holidays. Although, I didn’t exactly complain about running out for a bagel in the morning in flip flops, shorts and a T-shirt on Christmas Eve, and having to take out my summer running gear for my run in Central Park.

Speaking of Central Park: While I love the touristy spots in the southern part of Central Park, like the Boat Like, Bethesda Fountain, Sheep Meadow or Umpire Rock, I absolutely adore the northern part, which is usually much emptier than the south, since most tourists don’t make it that far north. But places like the Pond, the Rose Garden and the Harlem Meer are beautiful and in many places up there you don’t even feel like you’re in a park anymore, but in the woods – in the aptly named North Woods, for example. These are the largest of three woodlands within the park, and here you find forest paths, a stream, and cascades. Frederick Olmsted, who designed Central Park, envisioned for the North Woods to evoke the feeling that you’re in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York – without having to leave Manhattan.

And then there’s Harlem Meer (pictured) – Meer is the Dutch word for ‘small sea’ (and the German word for ‘sea/ocean’), the second largest body of water in the park, which has a completely different feel to it than the Boat Lake. If you want to get off the beaten path in Central Park, I recommend coming up here and checking out the North Woods and Harlem Meer. This self-guided walking tour through the North Woods is a great option, the Blockhouse, which is a small fort and second oldest structure in Central Park (constructed in 1812) is also worth checking out, and Fort Clinton, which overlooks Harlem Meer and the Upper East Side. Central Park’s second ice rink, the Lasker Rink, which is much less crowded (and much cheaper!) than the popular Wollman Rink in the south, is up here, too.

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Polaroid of the week: Beach day in Coney Island

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polaroid of the week usa new york city coney island creek parkThis month just keeps getting better and better.. Another amazing week here in New York is coming to an end, and I am even more excited about next week with my first Thanksgiving on U.S. soil and my birthday coming up, which both will undoubtedly be the highlights of the week.

But back to last week. Looking back, I am not sure how I fit it all in (AND get a decent amount of sleep!), but I finally made it to the Whitney Museum (highly recommended if you’re an art lover), caught up with old friends, and started working my way through the list of bars and restaurants I’ve been wanting to check out for ages (which, as new places are constantly being added to said list, is a lifelong task, I’ve come to realize), spent time in some of my favorite neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, followed a strict exercise regimen (to offset all the yummy food I’ve been eating since I got back to New York), got lots of work done and have had a few good nights out (I am so happy to be back in a place with such a vast selection of excellent craft beers).

My favorite day of the week was a day spent exploring parts of Southern Brooklyn that I hadn’t been to yet with a fellow photographer: the little known Calvert Vaux Park right by Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek Park, which is on the other side of Coney Island, across from the famous boardwalk and amusement park. The main reason for us to visit Calvert Vaux Park was the ship graveyard on the south side of the park, where a few rusty shipwrecks make for amazing photo ops. Coney Island Creek Park, which we visited afterwards, had some equally as great photo motives, like fishermen who were walking out into the freezing water to throw out their nets, and the hungry seagulls that were surrounding them, the views over the Verazanno-Narrows Bridge (pictured) which connects Brooklyn with Staten Island, and the slowly sinking sun, which resulted in a warm, soft afternoon light – perfect for photos.

The ideal ending to a day spent outside in the fresh air? A hearty meal, of course. I finally got to continue my hunt for the best pizza in New York and tried a place that had been on my pizza list for a long time: L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood. Both of us agreed that we felt like we had walked right into a scene from the Sopranos: this place was so old-school Brooklyn and wonderfully tacky – a treat not only for our tummies but also for our eyes and ears. Highly recommended if you want to try a slice of Sicilian-style pizza and want to get to know a part of Brooklyn tourists don’t go to.

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Colorful New York: A fall foliage road trip

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I am not sure when I started to dislike fall, but I think it must have been during my years in England. Fall, or autumn as the Brits say, always seemed to define itself through rain and foggy days, and while those misty London mornings could be romanticized initially, the novelty wore off quickly, replaced by the melancholy over yet another rainy day.fall leaf bear mountainOnce I packed up my London apartment and started traveling, I started chasing the sun and skipping spring, winter and autumn completely. Until I happened to be in the U.S. in October a couple of years later, amazed by how colorful and sunny this season was in the Midwest. It was my first time experiencing pumpkin patches, corn mazes and pumpkin spiced treats. Suddenly, autumn felt wonderful, and not dreary at all. Instead of rainy days and grey skies, I was enchanted by blue skies and autumn leaves in vibrant colors.Dani with leaves 2015When I was told that those colors weren’t even the most colorful ones in this country, but that the trees in the New England states on the East Coast had even more vivid fall colors in October, I put a New England road trip on my travel wish list right away.bear mountain fall leavesI was hoping to finally fulfill this dream last year, but you might remember that I ran out of time when I came back to New York for a few weeks in October and ended up going only on a day trip to the scenic Seven Lakes region in Upstate New York.bear mountain lake new york autumnSo this year I was determined to finally head up to Vermont. Spoiler alert: I still didn’t make it there! However, I managed to go on an upstate road trip for several days, instead of just a rushed one day out-of-town getaway. And yes, I could’ve made it all the way up to New Hampshire and Vermont, but I wanted to set some time aside to enjoy the scenery, go on hikes and unleash my inner child in the leaves (which I did), picking up farm-fresh apples and stopping in random little towns along the way, instead of spending all too much time in the car.tannersville new york pumpkinsSpeaking of the car: I gave the new Silvercar app a try, which is quite different from your usual car rental experience. I’ve rented cars in Manhattan before, and it’s usually neither cheap nor pleasant, especially if you plan to go away over a weekend. Tiny rental offices in Manhattan, long lines, and often mediocre customer service, given the amount of customers car rental clerks have to deal with here on a daily basis.dani silvercarWhat makes Silvercar different from other car rental companies? First of all, the entire Silvercar fleet is made up by silver Audi A4s. You always know exactly which car you get. Secondly, as I mentioned above, it’s an entirely app-based experience, which makes sense in today’s world where I do pretty much everything on my smartphone – be it renting apartments via the AirBnb app or hotels through the Booking.com app, deciding which restaurant to eat it with the help of Tripadvisor and Yelp, or navigating directions with GoogleMaps.bear mountain daniWhen you’ve made your booking, you’ll receive a text message confirming your booking and on the day of your reservation you’ll get a text from Silvercar asking you to send a text when you’re about ten minutes away from the rental location, giving the valet a heads-up to get the car out of the garage for you. I opened the car by scanning a QR code on the windshield, and after a short introduction to the functionalities and perks of the car, including how to connect to the in-car wifi and Bluetooth and how to use the navigation system (all of which are included in the price), we were ready to go. The whole process didn’t take longer than five minutes and not having to wait in line at a rental office felt great.new york fall foliage road tripIf you’d like to give Silvercar a try – they are currently operating out of ten cities in the U.S., and their New York location is based in Midtown Manhattan, close to the Lincoln Tunnel and West Side Highway, conveniently located to get you out of town quickly. Day rates prices fluctuate from $79-99 for a weekday and $129 for a weekend rental, which is in line with every other car rental companies in Manhattan. But none of the others can guarantee you an Audi A4 and the premium valet experience at that price! So instead of getting an average car for this rate, why not try Silvercar and get a fabulous car and a select experience instead?fall road tripShortly after crossing the George Washington Bridge and leaving Manhattan, we found ourselves surrounded by brilliant fall colors along the Palisades Parkway, which would bring us to our first destination: Bear Mountain State Park, about 50 miles north of New York City. We wanted to attempt climbing up to the peak of the mountain, from where I knew we’d have fantastic views over the Hudson River and when the weather was good you could see four states from the top of Perkins Memorial Tower atop of the mountain: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.bear mountain viewThe hike, which took about three hours in total, was steep at times, but the panoramic vistas were definitely worth the climb.Bear Mountain leavesMy plan was to stay in cozy cottages or B&Bs throughout the trip, which is why I spent hours researching places on AirBnB. I am recommending some of my favorite finds at the end of this post.bear mountain views daniWe crossed the river and continued on east of the Hudson River because we wanted to stop in Poughkeepsie the next day, where we wanted to cross the Hudson once again – but this time, on foot. The Walkway Over The Hudson, which is at 1.28 miles the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, seemed like the perfect place to take in the fall foliage from. At 212 feet above the river’s surface, it isn’t for the faint at heart but I kept my fear of heights under control by staying away from the rails.poughkeepsie autumn colors new yorkI loved how beautiful the yellow leaves on the trees on the path leading up to the bridge looked, forming a natural ‘tree tunnel’. The walk over the bridge and back takes about an hour, depending how often you stop to take pictures.poughkeepsie autumn colors hudson river walkwayAfter that, we headed further north into the Catskill Mountains west of the Hudson River. For the drive I chose route 32, which passed through the towns of New Paltz, Kingston and Woodstock – and it ended up being unbelievably scenic at this time of year. We couldn’t help but stop in several of the towns to check out some antiques shops and galleries along the main roads. new york fall foliage road tripSeeing these charming towns all dressed up for autumn, with pumpkins decorating entrances of houses and window sills, stacks of hay, fall flowers and restaurant menus denouncing seasonal specials, filled me with so much joy.

We stopped on the side of the road to pick up some farm-fresh apples, but we could’ve easily filled the car with just about everything the farmers were offering: homemade jams, pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, apple cider and fresh honey.tannersville new yorkThe next morning, I woke up just in time to witness a spectacular fiery red autumn sunrise, the air wonderfully crisp, the kind of day that is perfect for a hike through the woods and is waiting to be finished with a mug of hot apple cider by the fireplace. new york fall foliage road trip sunriseWe had made our way all the way into the Catskills Mountains, but the further north we went, the barer the trees had become – here, the leaves had already fallen from the branches, leaving the ground covered in brown and red leaves.kaaterskill falls new york autumn leavesThat wasn’t a bad thing though – on our hike to the Kaaterskill Waterfalls the leaves felt like a soft carpet on the ground, causing a crackling sound in the otherwise silent forest as our feet touched them. I could have spent many more days hiking in the Catskills – a list of trails I had found online made me wish I had time for some of the longer hikes in these mountains.New York Kaaterskill FallsBut luckily the Catskills are en route to Vermont’s scenic Green Mountain Byway, which I hope I’ll finally make it to next year. new york fall foliage road trip barn

Practical information

The State Of New York publishes a fall foliage report for all regions, which helps you to find out the perfect time to go. Find out more about Silvercar here, or download the app for iOS here / for Android here. Towns along the way worth stopping in: Rhinebeck, Catskill, Tannersville, Woodstock and New Paltz.bear mountain hudson river viewsPlaces to stay near Bear Mountain:  

Check out this place in Warwick (about half an hour from Bear Mountain), this one in Garrison (about 15 minutes away) and this cottage in Beacon (about 30 minutes away).

Places to stay in Woodstock:  

I love this cottage, this cozy cabin, this well-priced studio, and this cabin just outside of town.

Places to stay in Catskill:  

There are plenty of rentals here because Catskill is lovely – check out this apartment right in the center of town, this dreamy cottage, this wooden cabin, and this gorgeous creekside farmhouse.

If you’re not using AirBnB yet, you can get $20 off your first booking by signing up through this link. bear mountain new york hike

Have you done a fall foliage road trip? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

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Polaroid of the week: Fall foliage in Upstate New York

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polaroid of the week usa new york fall foliage upstateIf you’ve read my October round-up, you already know that I am back in New York City!. Upon returning to New York last week I felt something I hadn’t felt in months: an inner calm and peace of mind, knowing that I’d be able to finally unpack my bags for a while. But before making myself at home, I left the city to catch the fall foliage in Upstate New York. I knew there wasn’t much time left to see the fall colors – the trees were about to drop their leaves, so I decided to go on a little road trip right away.

Last year, I went on a short road trip to the Seven Lakes region in late October which I enjoyed tremendously, which is why I was beyond excited to spend not just one, but several days in the Hudson Valley, the Peekskills and the Catskill Mountains. And so I headed upstate after the fastest and most painless car rental process (I tried the new Silvercar app), and was lucky enough to still catch the colorful fall foliage along the Palisades Parkway and around Bear Mountain, which we climbed on a day hike. Further north we took in the fall colors around Poughkeepsie, where we stopped to cross the Hudson River on foot via the Walkway Over The Hudson, the longest pedestrian footbridge in the world, and later discovered that in the Catskills Mountains, the trees were already pretty much stripped of their leaves. But: The leaves-covered grounds (like in the Polaroid) made for fabulous photo ops, don’t you think? I’ll be sharing more about my fall colors road trip shortly – stay tuned for more fall photos from New York!

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Polaroid of the week: A Leaf Peeping Road Trip To Upstate New York

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polaroid of the week usa new york fall foliage road tripI used to think that I didn’t like fall, but over the last few of years I came to realize that it is November I dislike, and not all of fall. I spent October last year and in 2011 in Chicago and loved seeing the colors of the leaves change over the course of the month, and I love experiencing the same here in New York this year.

I’ve always wanted to spend a few days in the fall in Vermont, where the fall foliage is supposed to be among the most colorful in North America (thanks to the large amount of maple trees, which have the most vibrant orange and yellow leaves), and when I finalized my plans to return to New York last month I thought I’d be able to squeeze in a trip to New England for sure – but as so often, my plans were a bit too ambitious.

Instead of a Vermont road trip, I made sure to plan in at least a day trip upstate New York, and convinced myself I’d be fine driving in New York City (spoiler alert: I did return the rental car without a scratch!), so I headed up north on a sunny October day last week to photograph the stunning fall colors. I ended up in Bear Mountain State Park and took the Seven Lakes Scenic Drive, which passes,as the name implies, seven lakes with various viewpoints. I couldn’t have chosen a better day for the trip – the fall foliage was absolutely beautiful and I took hundreds of pictures while enjoying the break from the city. I still can’t get over the many green and natural places you find within an hour’s drive from New York City.

And while I did love the day in the countryside, I was also happy to come back to the crazy city streets at night. I love the crisp mornings that are perfect for a run, and the smell of the autumn air when I jog around Central Park, where I witness how the leaves change every day. I usually grab a coffee on my way home, and take advantage of the afternoons that are sunny and warm, at least mostly. I know that once November comes around, the skies will turn grey, the rain showers will be more frequent, the leaves will be gone. That’s the time of year that depresses me the most, and luckily I was able to escape to warmer and sunnier climates every year since leaving London after a particularly dreary, rainy and grey winter in 2010. Knowing that I will escape the gloomy November this year once again made me appreciate the beautiful October days even more.

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Polaroid of the week: The perfect Fall Sunday in…

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polaroid of the week usa new york city central park ice skatingThis week’s Polaroid comes to you from… drum roll… New York City! Surprise! I am back in my favorite city in the world, and I’ve had such an amazing weekend that the couple of grey and rainy days last week are already forgotten and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to return here for a few weeks before my next big trip, despite a pre-trip hectic rush and super short notice on this trip. I will share more details how this surprise trip came about in my October travel update next week (in which I’ll also tell you where I will be heading next month –  a trip I’m ridiculously excited about!).

The minute I walked out of the airport in New York, I felt right at home again and it was as if I had never left – which is, I guess, no big surprise, considering I had only left New York about six weeks earlier. There was one big difference though: when I left in the beginning of September, I was wearing flip flops, shorts and a tank top – now I am wrapping myself up in sweaters, jeans and boots. Quite a shock to my system after the heat in Israel, but I’ve been enjoying my fall runs through Central Park and along the Hudson River, and revisiting all my favorite eateries and coffee shops. Plus: The colder weather made me take advantage of all the indoor things I skipped for outdoor fun in the summer – I’ve been two the theater twice already, and this weekend was filled with art exhibits with a visit of the MoMA PS1 in Long Island City and the Brooklyn Museum, both of which I highly recommend.

Today was the perfect fall day with blue skies and warm temperatures, and I was hoping to catch some fall colors in Central Park. While most of the park is still green, I was surprised to see that the ice rink was already open – and it’s not even November yet! I hope I can fit in some ice skating before I leave, and that I’ll find some vibrant fall colors on a trip upstate next week. Since it’s the week leading up to Halloween: Happy Halloween to all of you who’re celebrating this fabulous holiday! (I am stoked to be in the U.S. again for Halloween and am pondering how I can top last year’s costume 😀 )

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10 Surprising Facts About Buffalo, New York

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I have to admit that when I visited Buffalo last week, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Most people who come to the area seem to rush straight to Niagara Falls, without paying much attention to Buffalo. After spending some time there, I wish travelers would pay more attention to Buffalo though – the city kept surprising me with its fascinating history, thriving art scene and recent renaissance of neighborhoods including the downtown area, which is filled with gorgeous art deco buildings.

Before I share more about my time in Buffalo, I’d like to introduce you to the city with ten facts that I learned there that you might not know and that may surprise you:

Buffalo New York1. It is filled with architectural gems

Buffalo is filled with so many architectural treasures, you could spend days just touring the city’s many historic buildings, skyscrapers, churches and mansions. Once a prosperous city thanks to its strategic location on the Erie Canal, which made it a major transportation hub, this wealthy city was able to afford prestigious architects of that era to create a model city to be followed by others. The city’s park-scape was created by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and Prospect Park in New York, who, influenced by Paris’ boulevards and parks, created an exemplary system of interconnected parkways and green spaces throughout the city.

Buffalo ArchitectureIt can also be considered a pioneer in skyscraper architecture with Louis Sullivan’s 1895 Guaranty Building and the beautiful art deco City Hall skyscraper. The Ellicott Square Building with its Italian Renaissance façade, the H. H. Richardson Complex, which was built to be the New York State Asylum for the Insane in 1870, the Buffalo National Savings Bank with its striking gold-leafed dome, or the Electric Tower, a gorgeous Beaux-Arts Classical Revival building, are other notable buildings. But Buffalo’s architecture deserves its own dedicated article, so more on that later. The city has 80 buildings that are registered in the National Register of Historic Places – an impressive number, considering the compact size of the city.

Architecture in BuffaloBack in its hey day, Buffalo also attracted many wealthy businessmen with money to spend on architects like Frank Lloyd Wright (who built five buildings in the area: three in Buffalo and Darwin Martin’s summer vacation residence on the shores of Lake Erie). Only Chicago has more Wright buildings than Buffalo!

2. A pioneer in many ways

The city has been a pioneer in many aspects, not only in its architecture: Thanks to its proximity to the powerful Niagara Falls, it was the first city to feature electric street lights in 1886. The Hotel Buffalo (originally known as the Statler Hotel) was the first hotel in the world to have a private bath in each room, and grain elevators were invented in Buffalo in 1842. Buffalo was also home to the biggest office building in the world, the Ellicott Square Building, which opened in 1896 (Buffalo held this title for 16 years.)

buffalo grain elevators buffalo river
One of many abandoned grain elevators along the Buffalo River

3. Second biggest city in New York State

Did you know that Buffalo was the second most populous city in the state of New York? I thought for sure that title would go to Albany, the state’s capital, but it is in fact Buffalo that takes 2nd place after New York City.

With close to one million people in the metropolitan area but only about 261,000 in the city center itself, Buffalo is just the right size: not overwhelmingly big but big enough to provide a wide range of entertainment, restaurants and bars and other things to do.

Buffalo from above
Only a fraction of Buffalo – I love how green the city is!

4. Booming art scene

Who knew that Buffalo was home to so much world class art? In total, there are over 50 art galleries (private and public), and the outstanding Albright-Knox Art Gallery alone makes every art lover’s heart beat faster with excitement, showcasing pieces by great painters such as Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Anselm Kiefer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Mac Ernst, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Georges Braque, Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name just a few. The Burchfield-Penney Art Center is another top-notch art gallery, dedicated to American painter Charles E. Burchfield, but also showcasing other local as well as international artists.

Buffalo also hosts two art festivals, the Elmwood Festival Of The Arts and the Allentown Art Festival, which attract thousands of art aficionados every year.

Albright Knox Gallery Buffalo
The Albright Knox Art Gallery

5. Inaugural site of Theodore Roosevelt

I was surprised to learn that Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated in Buffalo, and not in the nation’s capital. An inauguration that doesn’t take place in Washington, D.C. is very rare, and Roosevelt was sworn in in Buffalo because President William McKinley was shot while visiting the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in the city. After McKinley died from his mortal wounds, Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 26th President of the United States in the Wilcox Mansion, which is now a museum dedicated to the inauguration and other happenings from that era. The beautifully restored mansion combines old and new by displaying exhibits from the Pan-American Exposition and offering some fantastic interactive features that make it fun to learn more about the inauguration and the events surrounding it. My favorite feature: the desk in Roosevelt’s recreated presidential office where I could play president and create a newspaper with headlines about myself 🙂

president heinrich6. Buffalo has a huge waterfront

Thanks to the city’s location right at the confluence of the Buffalo River, the Niagara River and Lake Erie; Buffalo has a large waterfront, which I wasn’t aware of. The city’s waterfront is one part of the city that has been seeing a big renaissance in the last few years, offering a range of walkways and restaurants as well as fun activities throughout the summer – people gather here for outdoor movies and concerts, artisan markets and free yoga classes on the grass here. Alternatively, you can take a historic river cruise from here to see the massive grain elevators, which were a major contributor to Buffalo’s wealth at the turn of the 20th century, close-up, or take a boozy cruise around Lake Erie.

I personally love being by the water, and seeing the vibrant waterfront and how it is being transformed (with more developments to come over the next few years) was great.

Buffalo Waterfront7. You can cross right into Canada from here

I knew that you could cross into Canada at Niagara Falls, but I didn’t know that you can get to Canada straight from Buffalo as well. The centrally located Peace Bridge lets you cross the international border right in town and brings you to Fort Erie in Ontario. The bridge has connected the two countries since 1927.

buffalo niagara river
Canada – on the other side of the Niagara River

8. A festive city

I was surprised to see what a festive city Buffalo is! I happened to be in town during Garden Walk, the largest flower festival in the U.S., but learned that there are about two dozen festivals throughout the year – which is an average of two per month! The rich cultural heritage of the city led to the creation of a wide range of ethnic festivals such as the Polish Harvest Festival, the Italian Festival and one of the country’s biggest St Patrick’s Day Parades, but Buffalo is also known for its big Gay Pride Festival, the Taste Of Buffalo, the Allentown Art Festival and its own Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve.

In addition, there are several recurring festivals and events throughout the summer, like Food Truck Tuesday and Live at Larkin in Larkin Square, Yoga at the Gardens, Shakespeare in Delaware Park or Thursday at Canalside Concerts, to name just a few.

Buffalo Festivals
Food Truck Tuesday, Garden Walk & Canalside Yoga

9. Buffalo used to be one of the wealthiest cities in U.S.

In the early 1900’s, Buffalo had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States! That was around the time when Buffalo was an important railroad hub and stop along the trade route from East to West, plus the largest grain-milling center in the United States. When the St Lawrence Seaway was opened, replacing the Erie Canal as the most significant waterway in the region, and Amtrak rerouted trains to nearby Depew, the steel industry and grain milling declined and consequently, Buffalo’s prosperity dropped. But you can still see many of the millionaire’s mansions along Delaware Avenue, which was known as Millionaires Row back in the day.

Buffalo Delaware Avenue10. There’s more food than just Buffalo Wings!

The diverse food scene was probably what surprised me most about Buffalo. Obviously, there are Buffalo Chicken Wings which are famous throughout the U.S. (but aren’t anywhere as good as at the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the original Buffalo Wings!), but thanks to the city’s ethnic diversity, however, there is also a wide range of international restaurants to be found and the list of places I wanted to eat at was impossible to work through – I would’ve needed to eat constantly to try all the restaurants that I wanted to try. There are currently 904 restaurants listed on TripAdvisor for Buffalo – which shows you how much of a foodie town Buffalo is. I’ll write about Buffalo’s restaurant (and food truck!) scene more later, but favorites of mine included the Seabar (excellent sushi), Left Bank (Italian food) and the Westside Bazaar with its selection of African, Indian and South East Asian food stands.

Buffalo Food

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