Portland of the east

Portland Maine Harbor

If you’re anything like me, you’re already planning your travel for the year. And if you are, better add Portland, Maine, to your list.

I picked Portland because it seemed to have the best of both worlds – idyllic, water-front lighthouses and small town vibes + culture like art galleries, live music and top notch food. When I learned my mom had always wanted to go to Maine, too, it was settled!

Before we had even booked plane tickets (fyi flying to Maine is crazy expensive; Boston is way cheaper and just an hour and a half drive away!), I locked down our stay at The Mercury Inn. I fell in love with the mid-century modern and cozy place while researching, and in person the beautiful rooms, charming neighborhood, amazing hosts, and delicious food did not disappoint. The location was also amazing – one direction and we’re at a farmer’s market, the other and walking around downtown Portland. All of these superlatives do not even do it justice; just go there.

One thing that surprised me was how artsy the town was. I had pictured Maine to be a Life-Size Ralph Lauren catalogue, but it turns out Portland is home to art and film schools…so creativity abounds! Definitely nothing cookie cutter or preppy about the places and people, which I loved. Everywhere we went, friendly locals like a neurosurgeon on a Tinder date and a bartender who skis to work in the winter openly chatted with us about their lives and favorite places. Here’s what we did, with my favorites linked below!

Mercury Inn Bed and Breakfast Portland Maine

Stay.

 

Eventide Portland Maine Seafood Restaurant

Lobster Roll Maine Food Truck

Eat.

  • Oysters, Tuna Tartare and Cucumber Gimlet at Eventide
  • Fish tacos at El Rayo – I was suspicious about their “authentic Mexican” claim, but these are now my #2 favorite fish tacos (#1 goes to Duke’s in Malibu).
  • Gluten-free, dairy-free pizza at Otto (Yes, my mom is quite the trooper.)
  • Lobster Roll at the Bite Into Maine food truck – with gluten-free buns!
  • Bam Bam Bakery for Earl Grey Cake. Gluten-free and vegan, of course.
  • Duckfat for…duckfat fries.
  • Holy Donut

 

Tandem Coffee Portland Maine

Caffeinate.

  • Bard Coffee. My favorite! Seriously regretting not buying their beans.
  • Tandem Coffee. Cool space; acidic coffee, though – not my thing.

 

Maine Craft Distilling Portland Liquor

Fizz House Portland Maine

Portland Maine Breweries Bayside

Rising Tide Brewery Portland Maine

Drink.

  • Vena’s Fizz House (non-alcoholic)
  • Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box. As recommended by Otto’s bartender. Really cool, slightly hidden space with speakeasy vibes (you have to be looking for it, or, like my mom, curiously peering inside every dark door with music playing inside). Here we met another loverly bartender who was actually Zach Galifianakis. I swear.
  • Breweries. Maine Craft Distilling (the best!), Rising Tide (Maine’s beers have a grassy taste, if you’re into that sort of thing), and Urban Farm Fermentary are all within walking distance of each other.

 

Imagine Maine Portland Shopping

Shop.

 

Portland Maine Sailing

Sailing Portland Maine

Paddleboarding Portland Maine Beach

Do.

  • Walk around Downtown Portland
  • Ride bikes (from Gorham Bike & Ski) around Back Cove, stopping at the beach for reading and shell picking in the sand.
  • Portland Museum of Art – Free Admission Friday!
  • Farmer’s Market
  • Explore lighthouses in South Portland
  • Sailing at sunset. Freezing and worth it! If you can book one of the yoga or live music sails, too, do it.

 

thank you maine portland documentary school poster

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Hello, Turkey

Finally! After severely underestimating the amount of photos I took in Istanbul (and Pamukkale), I now have something to show for it. Can you really blame me that every seaside walk provided the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen or the best [wrap, meatball, pudding, etc.] I’ve ever tasted? Okay, so maybe not everything was 100% superlative, but the whole Turkish thing added a few points to the grading curve.

And without further ado, Istanbul.

One overnight bus later...Pamukkale.
One overnight bus later…Pamukkale.
Nope, not ice! Just a white stone mountain with a constant stream of mineral water and sparkling pools. Also known as the warmest we would be the whole time in Turkey.
Nope, not ice! Just a white stone mountain with a constant stream of mineral water and sparkling pools. Also known as the warmest we would be the whole time in Turkey.
This is real. And we swam in it.
This is real. And we swam in it.
Another overnight bus later...we made it! Considering our complete disorientation and lack of Turkish this is a miracle in and of itself.
Another overnight bus later…we made it! Considering our complete disorientation and lack of Turkish this is a miracle in and of itself.
Our first cafe complete with hot Turkish tea and jazz. Both hugely popular in Istanbul it turns out.
Our first cafe complete with hot Turkish tea and jazz. Both hugely popular in Istanbul it turns out.
Oh you know...just a jaunt along the Bosphorous fishing villages.
Oh you know…just a jaunt along the Bosphorous fishing villages.
Seafood seaside.
Seafood seaside.
Drinking like the locals. Raki, liquid (alcoholic) licorice.
Drinking like the locals. Raki, liquid (alcoholic) licorice.
Started our 'Old City' day with the view from the Sultans' Palace.
Started our ‘Old City’ day with the view from the Sultans’ Palace.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, my favorite of the Old City.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, my favorite of the Old City.
Sultanahmet, aka the 'Blue' Mosque.
Sultanahmet, aka the ‘Blue’ Mosque.
A look back...the path between Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet.
A look back…the path between Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet.
Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice street-side. Cheers.
Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice street-side. Cheers.
The locals literally line the street for this Turkish coffee shop. Souvenirs? Check.
The locals literally line the street for this Turkish coffee shop. Souvenirs? Check.
Nobody does brunching like Turkey. Plate after plate of delicious dips, fruit, cheese and bread with - what else? - cup after cup of hot tea.
Nobody does brunching like Turkey. Plate after plate of delicious dips, fruit, cheese and bread with – what else? – cup after cup of hot tea.
Holy Coffee - Home to Berk, Turkish hipster/drummer for SXSW bands, and traditional Turkish drink, Salep. Not only did they buy the ingredients fresh for us, Berk invited us to a coffeeshop dance party and brought us along to a Turkish "home party."
Holy Coffee – Home to Berk, Turkish hipster/drummer for SXSW bands, and traditional Turkish drink, Salep. Not only did they buy the ingredients fresh for us, Berk invited us to a coffeeshop dance party and brought us along to a Turkish “home party.”
Taking a break from vintage shopping to appreciate the architecture...one of far too many photos.
Taking a break from vintage shopping to appreciate the architecture…one of far too many photos.
Welcome to our day of epic eating. Best of the best? This spicy meat wrap, courtesy of this guy.
Welcome to our day of epic eating. Best of the best? This spicy meat wrap, courtesy of this guy.
Finding our way to "hipster bar" Peyote for some live music and dancing. "You're going to a-love this place" - our friend Berk.
Finding our way to “hipster bar” Peyote for some live music and dancing. “You’re going to a-love this place” – our friend Berk.
The top of Galata Tower...Hello, Istanbul.
The top of Galata Tower…Hello, Istanbul.
Istanbul has islands, who knew? Enjoying a ferry on our way.
Istanbul has islands, who knew? Enjoying a ferry on our way.
Dodging sea gulls on the boat.
Dodging sea gulls on the boat.
Checking out the fish market before awkwardly crashing a way too nice restaurant just for their special fish soup. Worth it.
Checking out the fish market before awkwardly crashing a way too nice restaurant just for their special fish soup. Worth it.
We found the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul, a little hideaway in an alley. Still not sure if you're supposed to drink the grounds in the cup...
We found the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul, a little hideaway in an alley. Still not sure if you’re supposed to drink the grounds in the cup…
Goodbye for now, Istanbul! You were all I had hoped, and I would love to return.
Goodbye for now, Istanbul! You were all I had hoped, and I would love to return.

Why Istanbul?

istanbul sign

istanbul meatballs

istanbul streets

Isn’t funny how different countries can sometimes seem just the same and completely unique all at the same time?

I’ve now had the opportunity to drive through the countryside in the US, Italy, England and Turkey, and I’m always struck by how, once you are a little removed from the concentrated culture of the city, everyone’s fields and mountains look like just that…fields and mountains.

I suppose there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

For me, my recent trip had a lot to do with perceptions. I started my travels with some hazy, largely unconscious ideas pieced together by a mix of picturesque Pinterest pins, inflammatory news reports and well-meaning but under-educated overheard discussions.

Upon hearing my travel plans, everyone asked, “Why Istanbul?” To be honest, there’s really no one thing. Unfortunately despite good people and a greater God, religion gets it wrong sometimes, which I’ve noticed happens most when cultural and personal biases get lumped in with it by us fallible humans. So I grew up in my church bubble dismissing the region largely due to unawareness and therefore avoidance about Islam. “Classic American,” right? Luckily, through traveling opportunities and curiosity about other cultures that ignorance was not to stay for too long. After taking a missions class about world cultures about 2 years ago, I was even more excited about the area. Out of nowhere, Istanbul was on my mind and seemed to be everywhere…on book covers, Pinterest feeds, a vacation giveaway email and more. I became captivated by the beautiful mosques, long history, fascinating convergence of East / West and completely different but delicious flavor profile.

Here’s just a few of the perceptions, some my own and some that I’ve heard, that I found challenged during my visit:

Turkish people speak far less English than guidebooks and blogs led me to believe. Thankfully, they’re also some of the most hospitable people I have come across so the worst ‘mishap’ experienced was receiving an awful lot of hot tea (çay) when asking for the similarly pronounced check and the more than occasional appreciative laughter at our failing attempts to master “thank you” (teşekkürler).

Yes, the Muslim call to prayer happened every day, multiple times a day. But contrary to popular (American) belief, the city did not stop functioning during those times and no one made us feel awkward or out of place for not participating. Besides hearing it over the city’s loudspeakers, I never really noticed. Honestly, I found the idea of an entire country not only accepting but broadcasting its optional call to united prayer really neat, coming from the US where religion seems to be more and more of an incendiary topic and one we often skirt around in conversation.

Americans. Single women. You are perfectly safe in Istanbul. If you are smart and respectful, there is no reason why these sweet people would have any problem with you. There are bad people in every country, and the only time we received any sort of negative attention was from a passing car while walking back from a club at 1:30 in the morning in a dress and red lipstick…and we just ignored them so they kept on going. Overall, Turkish people really are incredibly welcoming, kind and helpful people. I can’t tell you how many times someone noticed our complete confusion with the bus schedule and approached us to help in whatever way they could despite language limitations. It makes me sad to think that many Turkish people might not have the same reception from every American if the situation was reversed. Because if I’m being honest, I can’t say before that I would have stopped unsolicited in the middle of my daily commute to help a lost tourist.

Turkish people are quite stylish and modern. They’re really into vintage clothes in the New City side of Istanbul, so there were strings of fantastic shops. Women’s unique, fashion-forward combinations were both beautiful and inspiring. The guys especially are very well-groomed, smartly dressed…and really dang attractive. We decided it must be the great cheekbones that everyone seemed to have.

I hope this helps paint a slightly different picture for you than maybe you’ve heard before. And I hope you decide to find out for yourself!

Chicago, finally

I know you’ve all been doing absolutely nothing besides wait for me to post the long-promised pictures from Chicago, so I’m happy to tell you…the wait is over.

In all seriousness, I do feel badly for leading you on for so long. I also hope you do have many better things to do, but if you’re looking to escape from a particularly stressful work day or kill time waiting in line or traffic, I’m happy to oblige with the below stream of photos. (Except the traffic part. Do what I don’t and put. down. the phone.)

My week off work for the Wisconsin wedding and Chicago visit was 100% the re-energizing, fulfilling, fun, relaxing and all those other awesome adjectives that vacations are supposed to be. One major takeaway was the revelation that Madison, WI is quite the cool city with a Portland/Austin vibe: adorable painted houses, two lakes, bike-friendly, focus on local food and businesses, lots of live music and probably more. Who knew? I would completely go back, if only to participate in the (genius) Brunch & Bike event.

As for Chicago, we didn’t make it to a Cubs game, but we did do everything else I hoped for and more including a sunset architecture boat tour through the city, Second City improv show, Hot Doug’s for a real Chicago hot dog, drinking coffee and checking out record shops and bookstores through Wicker Park / Bucktown (the “hipster” neighborhoods, can’t you tell?), a leisurely walk through Lincoln Park and the beach and rooftop swims at our downtown place.

I also found my favorite place in all of Chicago, a cafe called Fabcakes where I enjoyed the most delicious lavendar latte and vegan and gluten-free oatmeal cookies. It wasn’t until after making insta-friends with the lovely people behind the counter and going back for seconds that I saw it – the neighboring restaurant’s hugely printed name next to the cafe’s shaded outdoor patio, “Prosecco.” If that’s not a sign of perfection, I don’t know what is.

school grounds coffee WIwisconsin flowerswisconsin school grounds coffeemadison sourdough bakerymadison sourdough bakery breadWicker Park Bucktown ChicagoView from our downtown Chicago apartmentDowntown Chicago BuildingsLake Street Chicago RiverChicago River architecture boat tourChicago architecture boat tourChicago Skyline at NightSprinkles ATM Chicago - My first dessert of 2013!Chicago BeanWrigley Field and Chicago CubsFabcakes Chicago PatioProsecco Chicago RestaurantChicago Beach and BikesChicago - Lake Michigan

D.C. life

Newseum in DC - first amendment DC brunch - ardeo + bardeo DCnewseum - good photography quote Newseum - Berlin Wall artNewseum freedomGoing into my long weekend, I have to say I was a little skeptical about D.C. After living nearby in Virginia for several, albeit younger, years and a couple visits later, I still wasn’t sold on the magic of our capitol city. As far as U.S. cities go, New York, Seattle, Austin and Boston inspired an instant infatuation that has only grown stronger since my last visits. Los Angeles won me over with one of the best weeks of my life, and let’s face it, I’ve always been a self-proclaimed California girl at heart (with the birth certificate location to match, thank you very much)!

While I still don’t feel like I really “know” D.C. after this weekend’s trip, I can now say that I do see why people like it and have deemed it worth further exploration. Despite the too close for comfort winter storm warning, my trip enjoyed fantastically sunny weather with just the right amount of morning chill. On top of the weather, I also had some pretty good food, including a completely perfect brunch at Ardeo + Bardeo (great food, menu, atmosphere, service all with bottomless mimosas at decent prices) and a special night thanks to my cousin at Matchbox. Seeing his culinary success firsthand and hearing our waiter tell me, “We always take care of family,” filled me with Italian pride. And as this is probably the strongest familial, food-related pride there is, that’s really saying something.

Now it’s back to real life, and I’m taking this as the perfect opportunity to get back on track with a lot of real life things.

Between the traveling, health costs and a growing combination of laziness/never enough time, my budget has really gone out the window this year. I literally cannot afford to keep carrying on this way, so I’ll be taking stock this week, re-prioritizing expenditures and brainstorming some hopefully cheaper ways to continue exploring Dallas.

I’m forcing myself to write this next one as I’m really not feeling the motivation, but I know I’ll thank myself later…It’s er…well, time to start working out again. There, I said it, and if I’m being honest, I’m even feel a little relieved. I will be adding a couple yoga classes to my week, at least one (although I could probably stand more) runs, and looking for ways to be more active in general. Have you been seeing all the buzz lately about how bad sitting all day is for us? I’m feeling a little more motivated already…