Five Favorite Things: Sweden

Five Favorites, Travel

I’m coming up on five years since I flew to Sweden.

For those who don’t know, I spent six months in 2016 studying abroad just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. My time there allowed me to travel extensively through Europe and enjoy Stockholm from darkness to never-ending light. When I arrived in January, the sun began to set at 3 p.m. and it would be pitch black outside by 4. While this didn’t stop me from taking trips to IKEA or adventuring around European cities like Brussels and Prague, it did put a hamper on my ability to enjoy Stockholm. It wasn’t until later months, when the sun never really set, that I found myself learning to love Sweden and all Stockholm had to offer. I thought I would reflect on my five favorite things about Sweden five years later.

Number one: the mixture of the new and the old. Stockholm, in particular, is a great example of how Sweden mixes the new and the old. Gamla Stan (the old town) is filled with rich history and is right across a bridge from modern style buildings. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets and feel like you’ve been transported back in time, before stepping across a bridge and eating a hamburger (at Max Burgers) in the modern day. Not far away is The Vasa Museum – a museum dedicated to a failed war ship pulled mostly intact from the bottom of the harbor – located right next to the Abba Museum.

Number two: the smaller cities. I’m not a huge fan of big cities – there’s too many people and too much going on. But the smaller cities that I was able to visit in Sweden were wonderful. Sigtuna, Sweden’s first city, is a small town that is a day trip away from Stockholm. You can spend a day wandering the town, hanging out by the lake, and eating along the pedestrian street. Stockholm is nice, but I really loved my time wondering roads in Malmö and Gothenburg; though not as small as Sigtuna, they offered a reprieve from the big city.

Number three: the public transportation. The biggest thing I miss about Sweden (but also Europe in general) is the public transportation. You can get just about anywhere on a train or bus. Relatively easily (and for relatively cheap) you can go from the suburbs where I lived in Flemingsberg (near Södertörn University) to the Royal Palace in central Stockholm, to Drottningholm Palace to the coolest cemetery, Skogskyrkogården, to the airport. Even when there’s a disruption to the service, you have multiple options that will get you where you need to go.

Number four: the adaptability. Though I might complain about how cold it was in Sweden when I first arrived or about how dark it got at 3 p.m. for the first month I spent there, I loved that the country adapted as needed. Sure you didn’t stay out as late in the winter months, but you still bundled up and powered through – a blanket and a space heater to eat outside and some proper shoes will keep you going. And then just six months later, when the sun never fully sets, you spend as much time outside as possible. I try to keep this adaptability in mind when I’m freezing on D.C.’s one cold day a year.

Number five: the Swedes. So much of my enjoyment of my time in Sweden was based on the very basics of life in Sweden. Things were efficient. People were polite, welcoming, and orderly. Everything was clean. There was an emphasis on living with nature, rather than fighting against it. And everything just felt balanced.

Sweden is definitely on my list of places to return to and explore so more, but I might just do that when it’s summer. I’ve had enough cold, dark days for now.

Five Favorite Things: Finding Joy

Five Favorites

On January 1, 2020, I wrote little notes to myself, reflecting on the night I had and looking forward to the next year. I didn’t really write any resolutions, but I did challenge myself to spend this year finding joy. This year has not been easy for anyone, but finding little spots of joy has helped tremendously. So here are my five favorite things that sparked joy in my life recently.

Music. I’ve rediscovered Spotify playlists recently. As I’m working from home and not bothering anyone else, I can put on tunes and take a dance break between data entry or a FaceTime with a friend. My favorite joyful Spotify playlists right now are Feelin’ Good, the Cleaning Kit playlist, and Songs to Sing in the Shower.

YouTube. I’ve found it really difficult to laugh recently – it just doesn’t seem right. But I give myself a reprieve sometimes and it makes me feel a little better. One of the ways I do that is by watching YouTube blooper reels. Many shows post their blooper reels on YouTube (or fans put them up for everyone’s enjoyment) and I often times find them funnier than the show itself. Can 10 out of 10 recommend. Another bonus of YouTube is a British show called Taskmaster, which has been uploading an episode each week.

Plants. My love for my plant roommates is not new. They’re a core part of my adult life and seeing them grow genuinely makes me happy. At last count, I had fourteen individual plants living with me, soaking up sun, and giving me structure. Once a week or so, I spend time watering them, checking for dead leaves, and making sure they are happy. And it brings me joy.

Reading. This year in general, I’ve reached for books more frequently than in the past. Perhaps because I don’t have academic reading in the way or maybe because I’ve been spending so much time staring at a computer screen, but the ability to spend an afternoon with my nose in a paperback has been really calming. Recent reads include We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Normal People, and Things You Save in a Fire. (If you are searching for new reading material, check your local library for an Overdrive or online rental account or buy from local bookstores through Bookshop.org.)

Yoga. Sitting all day has wrecked havoc on my back. But my weekly yoga class has moved to Zoom. While I’m not a huge fan of Zoom classes, doing yoga twice a week has made my back a lot happier and given me a reason to put on a sports bra (the only type of bra I’m even considering wearing right now) and get a tiny bit sweaty. Though I may get frustrated with my class, I genuinely feel better when I get up afterwards. (If you’re interested in yoga, YouTube is a good place to start.)

Basically, it’s little things everywhere. Where are you finding joy right now?

Five Favorite Things: Museums

Five Favorites

Growing up, I was very spoiled by the quality of museums in the DC area. And many of them are free to visit (shoutout to the Smithsonian). I could learn about history, art, space, animals, you name it, all within a few walkable blocks. When I started traveling around and museums weren’t up to snuff and they charged me to visit, I was supremely disappointed. I’ve popped my head into many a museum over the years, in various places. In reflection, some of my favorites are free and some are not, and only one is in DC. Here’s my list of five favorite museums:

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

If you find yourself in Paris, ignore the instinct to wait in line to get a grainy picture of a thousand hands in front of the Mona Lisa. Unless you have all the time in the world, the Louvre is not nearly as interesting as we were led to believe in elementary school French classes. Paris is an architecturally beautiful city and one of its gems is the Musée d’Orsay. Housed in a former railway station, the Musée d’Orsay houses some of the most stunning Impressionist art. I could spend hours wandering through the pieces and people watching. Plus if you go upstairs, you get a pretty good view.

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Children’s Museum, Indianapolis

Got kids? Despite being a little older than the target demographic and lacking in a child of my own, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was visited many times during my Indiana inhabitance. The fourth oldest and the world’s largest children’s museum is home to interactive and educational fun, ranging from dinosaurs to space to a carousel, all indoors. The space also hosts rotating exhibits (I even went with my grandma to see the terra-cotta soldiers there).

Courtauld Gallery, London

Another place I visited with my grandma was the Courtauld Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art. When my mother and I visited London many years ago, we purchased the London Pass which ended up not saving us very much on anything, but led us to a smaller gallery just a few blocks from Trafalgar Square. Located in Somerset House, the gallery has a wonderful collection of paintings that includes Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, as well as ceramics from the Renaissance and Degas sculptures. It’s usually much calmer than the National Gallery down the street so you can avoid the chaos that is tourist London.

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Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC

Another gallery to avoid the crowds is my one DC gallery on this list. Part of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery is a smaller space that allows each piece to take over individual rooms, shaping the experience with the integration of the piece into the physical space. The gallery is located literal steps from the White House and, because it is part of the Smithsonian family, entry is free.

Glyptotek, Copenhagen

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was a surprise find on a family trip to the city. The collection was built around the personal collection of the son of the founder of certain well-known beer. Though the primary focal point of the museum is sculptures, the highlight of my visit was the beauty of the collection in a stunning building. White sculptures stood out amongst crisp colorful walls; an atrium filled with plants sat at the center of the museum; the ceilings are just as stunning as the floors. And there’s a beautiful rooftop space that gives you a lovely view of Tivoli Gardens.

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** I do feel I should defend my list slightly. It’s heavy on the art galleries and lacking slightly on the quirky museums every city seems to have. Don’t get me wrong – the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Natural History are two favorites. The Air and Space Museum in Dulles is also really good, and I will never turn down a little museum that is oddly specific. But the ones on my list make me (want to) return again and again. They’re places I’ve spent hours and hours, only to leave and wish for more hours in the day.

Five Favorite Day Trips from DC

Five Favorites, Travel

Maybe you’re just in town for a few days or maybe you’re looking to avoid a tourist rush, but there’s plenty of quick trips worth taking that’ll get you outside the city. These are my five personal favorite day trips from DC:

Harpers Ferry

A friend recently visited from Indiana and wanted to cross West Virginia off her list of states unvisited. We initially planned a longer trip, but when we ran out of time, we looked a little closer to home. Harpers Ferry is a little town with history and nature galore. The town was home to John Brown’s rebellion but also has a great hike and plenty of tubing/rafting/kayaking opportunities. The hour and a half drive from the city was easy enough and parking was $15 for a spot through the National Park Service. We hiked the Maryland Heights Trail to the overlook and grabbed lunch in town.

Luray Caverns

If you’re looking to beat the heat, Luray Caverns is a fantastic option. To get there from the city is a beautiful drive through Virginia that’ll take you through Shenandoah. I’ve been in plenty of caves in my time (like four or five, okay? That’s a lot…) and Luray Caverns is amazing. Your guided walk through the caves is both scientifically fascinating and historically interesting. Plus the temperature inside always feels about 60 degrees.

Baltimore Aquarium

Maybe you’ve made one too many trips to the National Zoo and need to mix up your animal intake – take a drive up to Baltimore’s National Aquarium. The Inner Harbor has plenty of cool restaurants and the aquarium is amazing. I could stare at the jellyfish for hours, but there’s also other fish and critters to learn about. Bonus points: they’ve stopped their dolphin shows and are now focused even more on sustainability and the impact on local water systems.

Delaware Beaches

I’m not a huge beach person – too much sand, too many people, too high a chance for sunburn. But I love the sound of the ocean. Delaware has some lovely beaches within a 3 hour drive (if you’re lucky). Rehobeth and Bethany both have great beaches with plenty of food nearby. My personal favorite stop is Lewes Beach which is a little quieter and less busy but still just as cute. Another tip: visit off season – it won’t be a thousand degrees and packed in October or May but you’ll still get to hear the water.

Old Town Alexandria

Maybe you don’t have a car or maybe you only have a half day (or maybe you’re seriously inspired by my post about my favorite part of the Metro area), but Old Town Alexandria is worth the trip. Metro to the end of King Street and walk towards the water. After stopping in every cute shop and sampling ice cream, enjoy a wander along the water. You can either make the hike back to the Metro or hop on the free King Street Trolley.

What’s your favorite day trip from the city?

Five Favorite Things: Apps for Travel

Five Favorites, Travel

As a millennial, I am required to be glued to my phone at all times; it is the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I check before I sleep each night. So it’s only fair that I use it frequently throughout my travels. In keeping with my five favorite things lists, this one’s dedicated to my five favorite apps (specifically for travel, but also just in general).

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Pinterest

One of my favorite apps for planning a trip is the Pinterest App. I usually use Pinterest on my computer up until the trip starts then switch over to the app once I’m on the move. Pinterest is really nice for planning quick day trips, figuring out nice photo ops, or plotting the next stop. It helps to have a specific board created for the trip that will allow you to keep everything neatly in one spot rather than twenty tabs open on your web browser. You can then use the inspo you grab from Pinterest on your favorite mapping tool.

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Google Maps

I love my Google Maps app. I use it daily to check Metro times or to figure out what offices are in the building I’m passing. I hid the Apple Maps as it just wasn’t cutting it. One of my top tips for Google Maps is starring or marking every stop you want to hit on your trip. Once everything is marked you can see what’s clustered together or spread out. And if an adventure ends earlier than expected you can pop into one of your second tier activities. Another tip: download the map for that city so you can use the app off Wifi. Everyone loves a good map app.

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CityMapper

Another great map app is CityMapper. While Google Maps is good for walking directions and general orientation, I find it doesn’t always have the best transit recommendations. Insert CityMapper. CityMapper, while only available in a few cities, has the best recommendations for public transportation. And you can measure how far you’ve traveled by foot, bike, train, bus, you name it. It’s just another good one to have in your pocket.

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Instagram

I know I’ve talked about Instagram and travel before, but it’s actually a pretty good app for recommendations. Whether you’re inspired by a friend’s trip or want to see life through the eyes of a local in insert city here, it’s a good app to show you what’s out there to be seen. There’s a few different ways to use Instagram: you can follow your friends or your favorite celebrities or any of the thousands of travel inspiration accounts to see where you might be interested in going.

file7Another tip is to use the app’s search function to see either hashtags of your destination or to use the actual location tags. You can find music festivals or national celebrations or parades using their hashtags, especially now that every event has an official hashtag. Using the location tag gives you an insight to where something is, how people take photos, or even what the dress code is for the place you’re heading. (I recommend that any nervous about how people dress at their study abroad location check the hashtags and location for their university or town to see what people wear to class.) It’s a really versatile app and makes connecting with your friends so much easier both on your trip and when you return.

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Been

I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite things is adding a new country to my list. I’m at 29 countries as of writing and always plotting how to add more. But somethings I struggle to remember where I’ve stopped before. Thankfully there’s a super simple app for that. It’s called Been and it creates a map of the countries you’ve visited (as well as the states visited in the US for those of us trying to hit all 50). It’s really easy to use, doesn’t require WiFi, and it’s fun to see what ‘percentage’ of Europe you’ve hit after your trip. Plus you can take a screenshot and send it to your friends to compare your journeys.

There’s a thousand apps out there (probably more) which you might find useful or a total waste of space – it’s up to you. Other favorites are Duolingo for learning basic phrases, Splitwise for splitting costs between friends, Facebook Messenger for messaging family and video calling on WiFi to both computers and phones, WhatsApp for texting, YouTube and Netflix for entertainment, 1010! for a quick and mindless game, and of course, the Camera app for snapping your memories.

One last tip: make sure you download as many apps before you leave the U.S. (or your home country) as some apps aren’t available to download or set up outside your country of origin.

 

Sustainability

Five Favorites, Travel

Now maybe this is just me being selfish, but my argument for more environmentally sustainable practices is that I still haven’t seen all of the world and I’d like to have a chance before I die. Every few months, an article will come across my computer via Twitter or Facebook telling me about another stunning place that’s been destroyed by cruise ships or horrible tourists. And I refuse to apologize for the fact that I get pissed off for two reasons: 1) who in the heck do you think you are to destroy a habitat/endangered species/UNESCO site/opportunity just to get a selfie? and 2) I haven’t been there yet and I don’t want my chance to see [insert city/beach/historic site/animal here] ruined by some tour bus’s inability to be respectful.

Inspired by this Conde Nast article, I have drafted my five ways to not screw over my chances of seeing the world:

one. pack smart. I’m a big fan of the less is more approach to packing. But packing smarter is also important. Bring along a reusable water bottle or a tote bag for carrying your goodies. Heck bring four reusable bags: one can carry your muddy shoes, another can carry your snacks, and the last two can separate your dirty clothes from your souvenirs.

two. go somewhere new. Sure, we all want to visit Venice or see Machu Picchu before we die, but there’s also so many undiscovered places worth a trip. Challenge yourself to go somewhere you haven’t seen all over Instagram.

three. travel smart. Airplanes are pretty dang bad for the environment. Driving isn’t the greatest. Public transportation is your friend. Get your FitBit steps in to see those little alleyways and hidden gems. Avoid cruise ships and big tour buses that dump a ton of tourists at once in places that just can’t handle that chaos. Do as my father suggests and ride a bike. The journey should be just as environmentally friendly as the destination.

four. respect the land. Travelling takes you somewhere that is not yours. Respect it. Girl Scouts are taught to leave their campsites better than they find them; why can’t you employ this one on your trip? Pick up trash while you’re hiking. Stay on designated paths. Leave nature in nature. It’s pretty simple.

five. respect the people. Just as much as travel takes you somewhere that is not yours, it takes you somewhere that is someone else’s. Respect indigenous people and their customs. Trampling over religious sites or pushing out locals for your vacation is not sustainable and its just rude. Buy locally. Eat locally. Talk to the locals.

I will now step off my soapbox and continue my Google Maps adventures. Heck, maybe I’ll plot my next trip. Got any tips?

Nom Nom Noms

Five Favorites, london

Food is something that brings people together, tests your comfort zone, and can instantly remind you of times when you were safe and happy and loved.

In honor of the copious amounts of food I’m sure all of my American friends are about to consume this Thursday, I thought I would reminisce on the foods that remind me of home. And when I say home, I mean Stockholm, Indianapolis, London, Sydney, and DC. (Yes, this accidentally turned into a five favorites list, as well as a “travel the world through my favorite meals” kinda post.)

Stockholm

When I studied abroad in Stockholm, I remember being so flipping nervous about having to eat herring or some strange Swedish food for my six months there. But fortunately, Swedish grocery stores provided all the foods I could dream of. It was actually the first place where I had to cook for myself (and yes, I did have to google some very basic skills.)

46492677_177417226545719_7472823128842829824_nMy list of Swedish foods is six-months-worth-of-freezing-cold-and-dark-weather long. To start, I could rave about fika, the Swedish tradition of a daily (or thrice daily) coffee and pastry break. Or alternatively, I could chat your ear off about their kanelbullar, the yummiest treats equivalent to a cinnamon roll. Or hell, IKEA meatballs.

But instead I’ll talk about what I genuinely miss on a weekly basis: Max. Max is a Swedish fast food burger chain, like McDonald’s, etc. but better (and it’s more popular in Sweden than McDonalds and Burger King). Their food is fresh, their restaurants are clean, their staff is efficient. I’ve considered making a trip to Sweden just for their burgers and constantly think back fondly on my visits to the Max off of Kungsträdgården.

Fun fact: the first food my parents ate in Sweden was Max, which I fed them in the Arlanda Airport arrivals area.

Indianapolis

No one has ever said that the Midwest has the most delectable diet, what with the corn and the casseroles. But Indianapolis has plenty of really good spots for food, many of which I made trips to over my three years in the city.

Breadsticks fans should head to Hotbox Pizza (yes, that’s really its name…) or to Kilroy’s for their stuffed breadsticks. They’re the best drunk food, tried and tested. Fans of mediterranean food should head to Canal Bistro in Broad Ripple, while fans of Mexican food should head to La Piedad or grab a marg at Luciana’s.

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One place has a special spot in my heart: Patachou. It’s a little bit of a hipster’s dream and it’s a huge brunch spot for Butler students, but it’s so dang good. I have many a fond memory of breakfasts are Patachou with friends after a late night out or as a reunion after a service trip. With fresh, local ingredients and a mission to give back to the Indy community, it’s worth a trip.

P.S. everyone hypes up their coffee, but I’d also recommend you get the hot chocolate.

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London

I think I tried every (cheap) place on the must eat London list. I scarfed down waffles on the 40th floor of a skyscraper at Duck and Waffle. I pretended I was posh before splashing berry syrup all over myself, at Balthazar. I devoured a Crosstown Donut in Camden Markets. I explored a chain I saw all over London at Bill’s. I discovered disco fries at the Breakfast Club.

And a lot of it is delicious, but nothing gets close to my one true love: Dishoom. It’s Indian food with a twist. The bottomless chai helped me survive a dissertation and the naan rolls are making my mouth water at the thought. The restaurants have the best vibe and are filled with tiny touches that make it a memorable experience. It’s a really nice environment for working meals or catching up with friends.46508793_312174566047896_6370496265968418816_n

Pro tip: go for breakfast. It’s much cheaper and much less crowded than the lunch rush (plus, I’ve heard it’s much yummier).

Sydney

I’ll admit I didn’t go out to eat much in Sydney. My dorm had catering and when we did go out to eat, it was usually McDonald’s or Domino’s. The one food that still holds a special spot in my memory were the milkshakes.

Around the time I went to Sydney, decadent milkshakes were on the rise. One of my first Instagrams from my time abroad in Australia was of one of these sugar overloads at the Vogue Cafe. The Vogue Cafe and its counterpart, the Missing Piece, were both located in a shopping mall just next door to Macquarie University and my residence hall. So while I pushed past my introvert ways to befriend new people, we were able to bond over the sugar highs.

Later, we ended up making a pilgrimage to Erskineville for TellaBall Shakes at Foodcraft. We learned quickly that there is no clean way to drink a milkshake and then eat a Nutella donut.

The extravagant milkshake phase seems to have moved on, but those milkshakes left an impact.

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Washington, D.C.

Last, but not least, we’re heading home to DC.

If I was a good daughter, I’d say my favorite food in DC was my mother’s cooking. Nothing against her cooking, but I think it’d be rude of me to applaud her ability to perfectly cook Bagel Bites, keeping me from publicly praising her culinary skills.

The DC area has plenty of restaurants. In Old Town, there’s the classic chili of Hard Times Cafe, where my parents have been visiting for 20 something years, or for the hockey fans, there’s the Chicago-style pizza of Bugsy’s. If you’re in Woodley Park, you can hit up my Wisconsin Avenue high school haunts of 2Amys for pizza or Cactus Cantina for Mexican.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can stop by the White House on your way to Old Ebbitt Grill. For those pretending to adult, they can head to Ted’s Bulletin for homemade PopTarts. You can join the fight between Baked & Wired and Georgetown Cupcake (although everyone in DC knows that Baked & Wired wins every time.) I’m currently working near Dupont Circle, where I’m munching on Happy Hours at Front Page, and enjoying lunches at Zorba’s Cafe, and experiencing all that is the Big Hunt.

If we’re honest, I don’t know if I have a favorite in DC. Maybe, I’ll just have to continue my searchAll recommendations are much appreciated. Though they are subject to ignorance in favor of Chipotle or Moby Dick’s.

Five Favorite Things: Best (Free) Things About DC

Five Favorites, Hometown, Travel

There’s about a thousand and one things you could do in Washington, D.C. on any given day. So I’m picking my five seven favorite things (okay, I’m cheating a bit at this… can you blame me?!) to do in the nation’s capital.

First stop, the zoo. The Smithsonian National Zoo is located in Woodley Park, accessible by Metro, but a bit out of the tourist zone that is D.C. in the summer. The zoo is incredible, emphasizing research and the welfare and survival of the animals in its care. The work done by the national zoo is saving species from extinction with the largest group of conservation biologists in the world. And they let you visit, for free! You can wander by and see the pandas (D.C. is a bit obsessed with the pandas and each birth is a huge celebration for the survival of the species — plus they’re cute) or the elephants or just about any animal that your heart desires. Locals stop by the zoo during their lunch breaks or jog past the animals for their afternoon run.

If you’re in the area, Rock Creek Park is a cool stop. (My favorite part about Rock Creek Park is the parkway which switches to one direction at rush hour and let’s me pretend I’m British, but that’s just me.) We won’t count this as one of my official five, but if you’re sick of the city, you can almost escape into the 1,754 acre park in the middle of it all. There’s paths for hiking, walking, wandering, or horseback riding, plus events year round.

Another spot worth visiting is hidden behind the White House. The Renwick Gallery became Insta-famous a few years ago and is one of my favorite smaller museums in the city. It’s part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which means there is no fee to enter, but unlike some of the bigger Smithsonian art museums, it showcases a small, rotating collection of art pieces that are larger than life. Literally. Most of the art on display fills a room. So each time you pass through a doorway, you walk into a totally different, immersive experience. Stop by on a weekday or during non-tourist season and you’ll have rooms to yourself.

If you’re looking for some politics in the political capital of the United States, I will give in and add one spot to the list for you: The United States Capitol. (Please note that it is spelled with an o.) The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center provides tours of the legislative building with some history and some fun facts mixed in. The tours are free, but you’ll want to book a spot in advance if you’re visiting during tourist season.

Since you’re on the Mall, you’re probably thinking I’ll just go wander around and see all the monuments. And then you’ll start walking and you’ll be sweating and tired within minutes, surrounded by tour groups. To avoid this, follow my handy-dandy tip: visit at night. Though there will still be folks out and about at night, the National Mall clears out quite a bit when the sun goes down. You’ll be cooler (not that humidity will go down at all — sorry, it’s a swamp!) and you can take your time before you turn into a lobster. The monuments are all lit up at night from the World War II memorial to the Lincoln Memorial and down to the Tidal Basin to visit the Jefferson and the new(ish) Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

Now my last few (counting them as one!) suggestions aren’t really in the city, but they’re close enough! Hop on across the river to stop number one: Teddy Roosevelt Island. Another place good for a wander. Take a path through the “natural forest”, pop your head through the trees to spot Georgetown’s Waterfront, and pretend you’re far from a major city until you hear an airplane up above.

Which brings us to our next stop: Gravelly Point. A park located just next to National Airport where you can bring a picnic and hang out while airports land over your head. It’s part of the GW Parkway, which may be my favorite place to drive in the metropolitan area, which you can follow along to down to Mount Vernon. It’s the best during fall when all the leaves have changed.

So, that’s my top five (ish) things to do in DC. All can be accomplished in a day, if you’re speedy. I’m sure now that I’m home I’ll have a hundred more recommendations and lists popping up, but these are my quick recommendations.

What’s your favorite (free) place to visit in the DC area?

Five Favorites: Amplified Voices

Five Favorites

I started this blog to talk about traveling and my experiences abroad, but being an American abroad means never escaping American politics or celebrities. The number of questions I get about my feelings on Trump or the Kardashians negate the ocean between me and the place I was born and raised.

Yes, I have feelings on the current American political system and its visible (but not new) flaws. Yes, I have feelings about the idiots folks donating so that Kylie Jenner can go from having 900 million dollars to a billion dollars as a “self-made” millionaire. I’ve got a lot of feelings, but my words just don’t seem to cover them.

So I’ve stuck to safe topics, like how I pack for trips and my happy walks around London. My tweets have transitioned from funny daily occurrences to retweets of people whose voices I believe need to be amplified. I don’t want to be silent and I don’t want to be just another voice screaming into the void, hoping for recognition for my insight.

Instead of penning my political thoughts in extensive rambling form or spending the rest of my life apologizing for the stupid things I’ve thought and said as I learned about the world around me (No, but really. I’m so sorry if anything I’ve ever said was ignorant or misguided. I’m still learning. I think about my mistakes every single day and am working towards being a better, more informed human being.), I thought I would share some favorites of mine from right now. These are just five of my favorite voices that I am choosing in this moment to amplify.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

Recommended by a friend, Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special is an hour-long, but worth every second. Hannah speaks her truth, shares her frustrations, and thoroughly entertains, while weaving her personal stories with art history in such a clever way. She brings a new perspective to what it means to be a comedian, especially now. If you have an hour free and access to Netflix, Hannah Gadsby’s special is worth the watch. It’s heartbreaking and honest. I’m not a huge fan of stand up comedy, but I’ll be watching this again so soon.

Simone Giertz’s TedTalk

One of the great disappointments of my life has been my utter inability to do anything sciencey at all. I’ll never understand space, despite my love of stars, nor will I fully understand how the human body works or why some things go boom when others sizzle. But science can still bring joy to even those of us without a science bone in our bodies. Simone Giertz is an example of bringing joy to the experience. Simone creates “shitty robots”. I’m sure you’ve seen a video of the alarm clock that smacks her awake or the robot that spills soup on her instead of feeding her. They’re amusing and wonderfully flawed.

Simone has a YouTube channel worth subscribing to, but she also recently did a TedTalk. Now just like I hate comedy specials, I also hate TedTalks. This one is an exception. TedTalk is marvelous, insightful, clever, and a love story to the best parts of science. While I won’t be learning to program robots anytime soon, I can’t help but be infected by the joy she brings to these shitty inventions (even while dealing with a brain tumor named Brian). Maybe her shitty robots won’t change the planet, but if they inspire someone to try something new — you never know what might happen.

Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls at the Old Vic

I have read two Patrick Ness novels, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and more recently Release. He intertwines the Young Adult genre with a sweet SciFi in easy to read and clever stories. The rest of his novels are on my to-read list, but when I saw that he had a play in London, I gave it a quick look and quickly forgot about it. (I hadn’t read the book that inspired the play, nor had I watched the film that recently was produced.)

It wasn’t until I was doing a search on TodayTix for cheap entertainment that I saw the tickets for A Monster Calls were for sale and within my price range. A Monster Calls tells the story of a teenage boy visited by the yew tree outside his house. As the boy deals with his mother’s breast cancer and her worsening condition, the yew tree monster tells him stories. The yew tree is brought to life beautifully by ropes strung from the ceiling in one of the most stunning productions I have ever seen. The stage is so minimal and yet so expressive; the story is magical, yet honest; the acting is lovely and raw. The music and words from the stage were joined by the sniffles of the entire audience brought to tears by such a wonderful play. (If you’re in London, it is playing at the Old Vic Theatre and even the highest seats are worth the show.)

dodie’s rainbow

I discovered Dodie Clark on YouTube a few months ago. She makes quirky, sweet music that I find very calming, so I’ve added her songs to my Spotify. (Give In the Middle a listen, as well as Would You Be So Kind and Sick of Losing Soulmates.) She has a unique voice and her videos provided me with a lot of joy upon discovery and introduced me to other lovely musicians as well.

Recently, for Pride month, she posted a song titled “rainbow“. In the middle of figuring out who I am and volunteering for Pride in London, dodie’s song was a gem. The words spoke to me in a time of confusion and loneliness. Give it a listen.

Shaun King’s Twitter

I’m exceeding aware of just how white my five voices are so far. Yes, they represent minority voices and new perspectives, but I’m still questioning how much of my media intake is white. This is where Shaun King comes in.

I actually had to unfollow Shaun King on Twitter because it wasn’t a healthy mindset for me to be in. To pretty constantly see everything wrong with American politics flashing by was both frustrating and upsetting. I didn’t want to ignore what was happening but seeing it every time I logged on wasn’t good for me. I’ve since refollowed in my disuse of the platform, so that when I randomly pop back in, I am getting some reliable news. Shaun King is a great source for the constant inequalities that exist in the United States and around the world. He shares his educated opinion, as well as sharing the opinions of others and facts, and he isn’t afraid to tell the truth.

Other Twitter accounts worth a mention: Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint), The Associated Press, Terry Crews, Gene Weingarten, and WeRateDogs (because we can always use a little joy in our lives, no matter how horrible they may get).

Just because I am choosing to amplify other voices today does not mean I will be silent, but sometimes it is best to just listen. What voices do you want to amplify today?

Instagram Rules for Traveling

Five Favorites, Travel

It’s the millennial question: do you travel to Instagram? Or do you Instagram your travels?

I’ve got a long list of places I want to visit and some of those are inspired by my friends’ travels, as seen through the lens of Instagram. I don’t find that I’m suddenly willing to find New York worth a visit because of the filters and the clever captions I read online, but I find that it offers a new perspective to the experience of discovering (or rediscovering) a city or a country.

In order to enjoy my trips looking somewhere other than my phone screen I have a selection of five rules (or guidelines) that allow me to use Instagram and fully enjoy my trip:Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.51.15 PM

Snap and Move On

I find that when I see something beautiful or interesting, I don’t want to restrict myself from attempting to capture it in the moment, but that doesn’t mean I should just keep staring at my photos. So I tell myself to snap a quick photo (or ten) and then put the phone away. I do not look through my photos while I am still in a gorgeous place, nor do I post while I am still there. Sitting on a bus or chilling in your hotel room late at night are the times when social media scrolling is appropriate.

Be Inspired, But Original

I don’t want my Instagram feed to be a carbon copy of someone else’s, so I follow the rule that I can be inspired by someone’s photo or choice of perspective, but I won’t copy. This is a little harder with things that have been photographed a thousand times, like the Eiffel Tower or Gullfoss, but it’s always worth it to try a new angle or a different photo stop.

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.50.51 PM

Mix It Up

I try to not post the same photos over and over again. This is difficult when traveling because all I want is to post similar shots of cute doorways or gorgeous landscapes over and over. So I try to add a little variety, whether it’s a picture with me in it or a picture of a mountain intermixed with the cityscapes. I’m not a specialty Instagram, so posting my meals every day isn’t capturing my experience.

One is Enough

I don’t live by the rule that you can only post once a day on Instagram, but I do find that it is a platform for the good old mantra “less is more“. I don’t like, nor do I need, the ability to post multiple photos at once, so I don’t use that feature. Instagram gives a curated perspective and forces the most stunning photos to be prioritized. If I’m in an absolutely breathtaking location, I’ll post twice in a day, but with some distance between posts, so that I avoid taking over anyone’s feeds. If I want to post twelve photos in a day, that’s what Facebook or Flicker are for.

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For Me, Not For You

I post on Instagram for myself, not for anyone else. It is my visual diary book, taking me through the past four or five years of my travels. I post for myself, not for likes. I scroll for happy inspiration, not for validation. If that ever changes, the app will be deleted from my phone, just as Facebook and Twitter have. At the end of the day, if I’m traveling to post on social media, I’m missing the great parts of what made these adventures so valuable to me in the first place.

What are your rules for internet posting while traveling?

Feel free to follow me on Instagram : @lilpicks95