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Polaroid of the Week

Polaroid Of The Week: Hiking the dramatic cliffs of Gertrude’s Nose

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Just a couple of days after returning to New York, I found myself at Grand Central Terminal, ticket in hand and ready to board a train to New Hamburg, a small town on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

This wasn’t going to be a long trip, but even a couple of days away from the city are enough for me to recharge my batteries, and I was on a mission to clear my head with another great hike, after all the fantastic hikes I did in Tennessee last month.

The Lower Hudson Valley has enough hikes to keep me busy (and in shape!) for the next few years, but somehow I haven’t made it up there one single time since a long day hike last summer.

We consulted our hiking guide book to find a great day hike and finally settled on a trail inside the Minnewaska State Park preserve: the 7-mile Gertrude’s Nose Trail with a detour to Lake Minnewaska.

The hike started off fairly easy, on a gravel road, until we turned off the road onto a smaller trail. The entire morning we didn’t see a single other person, and the first sign that we weren’t the only ones in the woods were fresh bear tracks which made me slightly nervous. For the next couple of hours, we followed the path along the edge of steep cliffs, always overlooking the vast forest that was surrounding us. It never ceases to amaze me how close I am to so much untouched nature – just a couple of hours north of New York City.

We walked for over three hours until we ran into another pair of hikers, and only when we got closer to Awosting Falls, we started seeing more people, who had taken the shorter trail to the Falls, which we would use to conclude our loop and get back to the parking lot. The waterfalls were nice, but there wasn’t enough water when we went to make them as impressive as they would be after heavy rains, and so we didn’t spend a lot of time lingering there. Instead we decided to make a little detour on the way down and stop by Lake Minnewaska, which we’d seen in the distance at the beginning of the lake and which was now calling us for a quick dip. When we reached the lake, we were sweaty and hot, and we didn’t waste much time – we took our clothes off and ran straight into the lake for a quick dip. I am not sure if this was allowed, but it sure was refreshing!

We left Minnewaska State Park talking about possible fall hikes – not long until the fall foliage hits peak season, and I hope I’ll get to go upstate to see it when the colors are spectacular.

Looking for a fall foliage getaway in the U.S. this year? Here’s a great fall foliage forecast & map.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Austin, Texas

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Last week I returned to one of my favorite cities in the U.S.: Austin! This was my second trip to Austin this year, after a long weekend in February (which was a great escape from the East Coast winter back then). My main reason for this visit was a travel conference, the inaugural TravelCon, which brought 80 speakers and 600 attendees to Austin, and which turned out to be fantastic. (You’ll definitely see me at the next one in Boston in June 2019). But I also wanted to make sure I’d have time to visit all my favorite food haunts and places around the city, and so I booked flights that allowed me to spend three days pre- and three days post-conference in Austin.

And how glad am I that I decided to fly in early – as soon as the conference started, I was busy attending workshops, talks and keynote speeches, attending meet-ups and parties, and bad weather arrived in Austin. While it was still hot and humid, it was overcast and rainy, and a post-conference day trip that I’d been very much looking forward even had to be canceled, because of the high level of bacteria in the water at Hamilton Pool, where I was supposed to go yesterday. But I guess that gives me an excuse for another trip to Texas – that along with my failed trip to Big Bend in 2016.

TravelCon, the conference that brought me to Austin last week, felt like a high school reunion. Among my fellow speakers were some of my favorite blogging buddies (Shannon of A Little Adrift, Dalene and Pete of Hecktic Travels, Laurence of Finding The Universe, Jeremy of TravelFreak) and fellow bloggers I’ve been following for several years but never had the chance to meet in person, such as Kiersten of The Blonde Abroad, AngieAway or Kristin of Be My Travel Muse. I got to catch up with Wandering Earl, Audrey and Dan of Uncornered Market, Cailin of TravelYourself, Alex In Wanderland, Amanda of A Dangerous Business, Matt of Expert Vagabond … to name just a few… and to listen to some inspiring talks, even though I missed the one I was most excited about – internet marketer Pat Flynn’s talk, the man I owe it to that I started making money blogging in the first place.

I missed his talk because it took place at the same time I spoke about LGBT Travel Blogging with my blogger BFF Adam. As every conference I ever went to, I left feeling motivated and inspired by the workshops and presentations of my peers, the success stories of the people I met, and the travel industry professionals I had the chance to network with. It still blows my mind to see how far the travel blogging industry has come since the early days in 2010, when Globetrottergirls was launched.

Before the conference started I managed to check out the latest street art at Hope Outdoor Gallery, I went to Barton Springs (a large swimming pool fed by natural springs), I watched hundreds of thousands of bats emerge from their hiding place underneath Congress Ave Bridge at sunset, I tried out Austin’s awesome new dockless bike sharing system and the new dockless scooters (I preferred the bikes because whizzing around Austin on the scooters was fun but I felt lazy) and I made sure to hit up all my favorite taco places (Veracruz Natural and Pueblo Viejo) as well as my beloved Gourdough Doughnuts. To offset all the tacos and other delicious food I ate, I did some stand-up paddle-boarding and I went for long runs along the Colorado River, finishing strong with a 28k (17 miles) run yesterday (I should probably mention that I am training for the New York marathon, I am not crazy!).

Every time I run along the river and Lady Bird Lake I marvel at how active Austinotes are – kayaking, standup paddle-boarding, running or cycling – and how many of them exercise with their dogs. And every time I see this it makes me think I should just get a puppy and move to Austin. But I am not ready to leave New York just yet – in fact, after enjoying the extension of my summer thanks to the glorious Texas heat, I am ready to return to New York and take in the fall colors before leaving for my next trip in a few weeks.

If you go:

Here’s my guide for 48 Hours In Austin

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Polaroid Of The Week: Hiking Along The Blue Ridge Parkway

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Nashville was just the jumping-off point for a road trip through Tennessee and North Carolina – a trip I dubbed the ‘Beer and Mountains’ adventure because those were the two reoccurring things of the trip: Mountain hikes, scenic mountain road drives, viewpoints and micro breweries.

From Nashville, we headed east and it didn’t take long until the flatlands turned into rolling hills and eventually into mountains: We had reached the Great Smoky Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway (for views and hikes) and Asheville (for all the craft beer – did you know Asheville had the highest number of breweries per capita in the US?) were the two reasons we added North Carolina to what was originally supposed to be a Tennessee road trip.

I’d driven parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway years ago, but back then we were on a tight schedule and didn’t have time to stop for more than one tiny hike along the way, so this time I wanted to see more than just some viewpoints along the way.

And I am glad I got to drive through this part of North Carolina again! The Blue Ridge Parkway, which traverses Virginia and North Carolina for 469 miles (755 km), winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountain range, is known as one of America’s Most Scenic Road Trips and America’s most visited National Park for a reason. We managed to go on four hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway, all of which wowed me with beautiful lush green forest scenery and striking vistas.

My favorite hike was the Black Balsam Knob hike, which is part of the popular 30.1-mile Art Loeb trail. We followed the trail up to the mountain bald, as they are calling the summits here when they are covered in grass or bush instead of the dense forest you see at lower elevations. We walked a narrow path on the bald, surrounded by lower mountain peaks and green woodlands as far as the eye could see. There were plenty of wild blueberries and blackberries along the trail, making for a delicious snack, provided by nature. The 360 degree panoramic vistas were spectacular – with every turn the path took, a new breathtaking view came into sight. We could’ve happily spent all day on this trail, but the road was calling, and we eventually had to turn around to head west again. We would loop back to Tennessee via the scenic route through Nantahala National Forest, ending the day in Chattanooga, where more hiking trails were waiting for us.

If you go:

 

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Polaroid Of The Week: Nashville’s Famous Broadway

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After only two trips in seven months (the least traveling I’ve done in years!), August marked the month that I finally started traveling more again. And with trips lined up every month for the rest of the year, I decided to revive my Polaroid Of The Week series.

This weekly look back at what I’ve been up to might not be a full travel article on a destination, but it’ll give you an idea of what I’ve been up to and include at least one useful tip.

To kick off my late summer travels, I flew down to Nashville, Tennessee, a city I’ve been wanting to visit ever since watching The Thing Called Love with Sandra Bullock and River Phoenix in 1993. In recent years I kept hearing great things about the city, and after only one quick stop in Memphis years ago, I was excited to finally visit Nashville and to see more of Tennessee. Because Nashville was just the jumping-off point for a Tennessee road trip, or if I want to be 100% precise I should say Tennessee & North Carolina road trip because adding Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains to our itinerary meant dipping into Tennessee’s eastern neighbor state for a few days.

Nashville did not disappoint – even though the famous Broadway lined with honky-tonks and bars felt a bit tacky, I enjoyed popping my head in some of them and lingering for a while in those that had great live music.

I was glad though that we had time to explore Nashville beyond its famous music district, and got to see striking mural art in various neighborhoods, the famous Parthenon (a full-size replica of the original Parthenon in Athens), check out some micro-breweries and even take a quick side trip to Franklin, a historic town with beautiful Antebellum homes just south of Nasheville.

If you go…

Don’t miss:

  • A Bushwacker, Nashville’s famous boozy milkshake. Apparently Edley’s Bar-B-Que has the best ones, and on Wednesdays they’re only $5!
  • Bearded Iris Brewing if you like craft beer
  • Live music on Broadway – Tootsies Orchid Lounge is the most famous one
  • 21c Museum Hotel for great art inside a hotel
  • Biscuit Love for a great Southern brunch

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Polaroid Of The Week: A Beautiful Manhattan Sunset

Polaroid of the week

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Another busy week is coming to an end! This week, I’ve had the pleasure to add ‘serious’ room hunting to my to-do-list (as opposed to ‘casual’ room hunting the week before).

Had I not challenged myself to daily runs this month, I don’t think I’d seen much of the city in the past seven days, but these four miles a day allowed me to remember that I am in my favorite city in the world. I deliberately chose scenic running routes this week to remind me in what a stunning city I live: Bridge runs over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, the Prospect Park loop, and runs through some of my favorite picturesque neighborhoods, like Fort Greene and Bed-Stuy, with their beautiful brownstones. I had to pinch myself sometimes, thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe I am living here now‘, and indulged in reading a few of my first posts about my love for New York, and how I’d been trying to figure out to spend more time here ever since my first full summer in 2014. First my extended visa, now permanent residency.. sometimes I still can’t believe that this is really happening. I’ll be reminiscing some more about how I got here in my Life Lately round-up.

Even though I didn’t get around to enjoying New York as much as I’d like to, I still managed to fit in some socializing with  drinks and dinners in eateries I’ve had on my ‘To Try’ list for a while, such as Puerto Viejo in Crown Heights (amazing Dominican food, and a surprisingly large range of vegan options), the vegetarian restaurant Buddha Bodai in Chinatown, Queens Comfort in Astoria for brunch, and my best new find for cocktails: Boudoir in Brooklyn Heights, a bar with a hidden downstairs area, speakeasy-style.

Oh and – the room hunting? Successful. With only one day left before having to leave my current place, I found something. To say the room hunt was stressful would be an understatement, but I’ll be moving to one of my favorite neighborhoods next week – stay tuned!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Cherry Blossom Carpet in New York City

Polaroid of the week

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It feels like I haven’t sat still for a minute since returning to New York. From day 1, I’ve been dealing with immigration matters, setting myself up as a ‘legal resident’, which includes things like getting a bank account, insurance and figure out how to file taxes. Then there’s the issue of finding an apartment and a part time job, which – much to my surprise – happened faster than excepted! While I’m still officially homeless (no worries though, I don’t have to sleep on a bench in Central Park), I’ve started working, and I was lucky enough to find a job that offers me more than just part time work. Income that I need for a number of things, but I’ll get into that in more detail in my May round-up next week. Between the new job and my freelance writing work I’ve been struggling to keep the blog up and running, as you may have noticed, but I hope I’ll find a way to combine those three things when things in my new job have calmed down a little.

Luckily, I was able to enjoy a little bit of New York’s gorgeous spring weather before I started my crazy 70-hour work week, and one sunny morning my friend Kristin and I met up for a little photo shoot in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, one of my favorite green oases here in New York. We caught the tail end of the cherry blossom season and the fallen blossoms turned the ground into one massive cherry blossom carpet. Even though I didn’t have much time to enjoy New York so far, I’ve made sure to diversify my daily runs as much as possible, which means I’ve got to see spring flowers and cherry blossoms all over the city, from Randall Island and Governors Island in the East River to Central Park and Prospect Park as well as bridge runs over the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I hope next month I’ll be able to enjoy the city a bit more, and be able to fit in a trip to the beach!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Soaking Up Cuban Life In Trinidad

Polaroid of the week

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The true showstopper in Cuba for me wasn’t Havana, but Trinidad, a city founded by the Spanish that dates back to 1514 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I wasn’t sure if it’d be worth the long drive to get there – the city is located pretty much in the middle of the island, halfway between Havana in the north and Santiago in the far south; around 6 hours on a bus from Havana. But I am so glad that we decided to add it to our itinerary, despite the distance from Havana and Viñales, our first two stops.

Trinidad looked like it hadn’t changed much since the Spanish founded it in the 16th century – colonial houses line cobblestone streets, there are several Spanish-colonial churches and neatly arranged plazas, and horse carts outnumber cars. When people say that a trip to Havana feels like a trip back to the 1950s (because of all the American vintage cars from that time), it’s safe to say that a trip to Trinidad feels like a trip back to the 16th century.

In Trinidad, we got to really soak up Cuban life. With four nights here, we had plenty of time to experience Cuban culture, watch people dance salsa in the town square and in the bars every night, watch locals meet for a chat or a glass of rum in one of the benches that lined all the plazas, and artists draw paintings in the many galleries.

Every time we wandered around town we found a new street that was oozing with character, another crumbling church, another shop that looked more like a museum than a store, with items written on a chalk board and old-fashioned scales on the counter. The rolling hills surrounding the town and the nearby ocean (the popular beach Playa Ancon is only eight miles from Trinidad) only add to the attraction of this picturesque little town. Trust me: Trinidad is not to be missed on a trip to Cuba!

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Polaroid Of The Week: A Picture-Perfect Caribbean Beach in Cuba

Polaroid of the week

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Even though Cuba is a Caribbean island, whenever I thought of Cuba, a Caribbean vacation was not what I had in mind. Instead, I pictured Spanish-colonial colorful towns, lush green tobacco fields and the crumbling facades of Havana’s grand buildings. What I wasn’t thinking of were turquoise, crystal clear waters and pristine beaches fringed by palm trees. But of course, there are lots of exactly those in Cuba, and I am glad that I got to include a couple of them into my packed Cuba itinerary.

The first beach we went to, Cayo Jutias, happened to be a beach that is one of Cuba’s most stunning beaches (nearby Cayo Levisa on a tiny island off of the coast is supposedly the absolute best beach in Cuba. And yes, every beach we saw afterwards looked just.. uh.. nice.. in comparison (but those were still Caribbean beaches..!). Cayo Jutias doesn’t have any hotels, only a couple of restaurants. Other than that, it is just miles and miles of untouched, picture-perfect beach. And the best thing? Since Cayo Jutias is fairly difficult to get to – located on the northern tip of the island, a bumpy 75-minute ride on a pothole-filled country road from the small town of Viñales – there aren’t many tourists there.

As we walked further away from the restaurants – not before trying a Coco Loco, a fresh coconut to which rum and honey are added – we encountered less and less people, and found a large stretch of beach that we had all to ourselves. Parts of the beach aren’t fringed by palm trees but by a mangrove forest, which makes for an interesting backdrop and some lovely photo opps (see some of the pics in my April round-up). After a few days of city life in Havana and exploring the countryside around Viñales, I couldn’t have asked for a better beach getaway than Cayo Jutias…

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Polaroid Of The Week: The Classic Cuba Shot

Polaroid of the week

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I have so many thoughts and emotions about my Cuba trip, I am still processing everything I’ve seen and experienced on this spellbinding little island. Visiting Cuba turned out more challenging as I thought it would be, but it was so worth it. I have yet to go through the thousands of photos I took and sort my thoughts, but I’ll be sharing a number of Cuba articles shortly.

For now, let’s just say that Cuba isn’t like any other country I’ve ever visited, and yet, it felt strangely familiar. Why is that, you wonder? I grew up in East Germany, a Communist country, just like Cuba still is. In fact, Cuba was one of our socialist allies, and while with the collapse of the Communist bloc, life for me and 16 million other East Germans took a huge turn (for the better), Cubans still live so many aspects of the life that I remember from my childhood. Before this little teaser for my upcoming Cuba content becomes too much of a ramble (I’ll be talking about this ‘walk down memory lane’, which this trip inadvertently turned into for me, in an upcoming article) – for now I just want to say that I was fascinated by the spirit of the Cuban people, the lust for life, their ability to find joy in the little things, and about seeing how life spills out into the streets everywhere. I found especially Havana captivating, with its grand buildings, some of which were crumbling while others were already being renovated, showing off a fresh layer of paint and repaired facades, a visible sign of the changes that Cuba is seeing with the ease of the trade embargo of the US. And then there were of course the hundreds of American vintage cars cruising around Havana, just waiting for you to take that classic Cuba shot.

I’ve already gotten a bunch of questions about my trip, especially on Snapchat where I’ve been sharing some of the clips I took in Cuba (where I was completely offline, by the way!). Tune in for a Cuba Q&A on Snapchat this Sunday (30 April) – my user name is mariposa2711.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Bacalar, Mexico’s Lagoon Of Seven Colors

Polaroid of the week

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Have you ever heard of the Lagoon of Seven Colors? This lagoon in the far southern Yucatán peninsula, close to the border with Belize, isn’t on the main tourist trail in this popular area because it is quite a drive from Playa del Carmen or even Tulum, which are very much the center of the Yucatan’s tourist trail.

I wouldn’t have known about Bacalar had I not lived in a small fishing village not far from there for a couple of months in 2012. Back then, I had to pass through Bacalar on my way to Chetumal, the border town with Belize, every time I went for a big grocery shopping.

I have to admit though that, since I was living right on the Caribbean, I never made an effort to truly explore Bacalar and the beaches of this marvelous lagoon, which is the second largest lake in all of Mexico. Having my own private beach with ocean views that offered similarly mesmerizing shades of blue, I never felt the need to spend much time in Bacalar.

Luckily, this oversight has finally been rectified. I was not only completely smitten by the lagoon with its beautiful blue-ish tones, which result from the varying amounts of sand on the bottom of the lake, but also by the little town itself. Small Mexican restaurants blend in effortlessly with hipster L.A. style gallery /cafes and fancy lagoon-side eateries where you can swing in hammocks right at the shore. Because the lagoon is such a unique feature, Bacalar was rewarded the ‘Pueblo Magico‘ status, making it one of Mexico’s famous ‘magic villages’, of which there are now 111.

There is only one small free public access to the lagoon, but we found two good beaches that are well worth paying for (one of them was only $0.50, the other one around $1.10 – so those were almost free, too!). One was a bigger camping area right in the center of town which had a long pier into the lake and a couple of man-made wooden islands to sunbathe on. The other one was a smaller camping area outside of town where you have some swings right in the water! This is where I took the above picture of what might be the most scenic tent I’ve ever seen.

Admittedly, I am not a big fan of camping, but this tent, in its glorious location, would convince even me to spend the night!

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