Get ready: I'm about to hit you with, like, 6 posts about Akko, a city you've probably never heard of but should definitely visit. Actually, I'm going to hit you with 6 blog posts and a Steller. Does anyone else use Steller? I think it's so fun. The old city of Akko, located on the coast of Northern Israel, is an ancient walled city made up mostly of Muslim families. This means every night the sky glows with the neon lights of minarets and several times a day, the noise of the city is muffled by the call to prayer that takes over the village. The city streets are narrow stone alleys with tiny convenience stores tucked into nooks and crannies and bright shades of blue, green and turquoise hiding behind every corner.
It's like nowhere I've ever been. --- I had to write that intelligent sounding paragraph to make up for what was actually coming out of our mouths, over and over again, while we wandered the streets of Akko: "It looks just like it did on Wikipedia!" --Y and, "This is just like Aladdin!" -- me.
Today I got out of bed less than six times: bathroom breaks, lunch, and feeding the dog. The rest of the time was spent with the 2014 version of a stack of magazines (a full blog reader), cups of tea, and a playlist I titled Chillax (because that's what all the cool kids are saying these days, right?). This playlist also happens to be the playlist I listened to on the flights to and from Israel, to keep me from thinking about all of the horrific things I tend to think about while flying.
Chillax is heavy on Ellie Goulding's first album, which secured its place as my go-to plane music in 2011, and lately I've added songs from super mellow The XX, a few Spotify Radio discoveries, new-to-me recent favorite Emma Louise, and the song from Her -- which I once listened to at my desk for 3 hours straight
The playlist lived up to its name; more than 25 hours of flying and I didn't think about the opening scene of Final Destination a single time -- a huge victory for me. (Why do movies like that even exist?!) And today, it was the perfect soundtrack to being the laziest person on the planet and listening to thunder and rainstorms through my open window.
"I guess this is it?" It had taken fifteen minutes of twisty, uphill driving, but we had finally reached our destination: what was supposed to be the grandest view in Haifa, a promenade overlooking the magnificent Bahai Gardens and the Haifa bay. We slowed the car down in front of an overgrown field. "This is not it," said Y. But it was the address given to us by our hotel, and without internet we were basically helpless, so we parked the car and wandered into the weeds. The air was thick with the smell of skunk. There was trash everywhere. This was not it. We turned around, and on our way out nearly ran into two tourists; women who had apparently been given the same faulty address. One of them interrupted a man on his cellphone sitting on a parked motorcycle nearby. "Rak rega," he said, annoyed. Just a second.
Y and I shrank back, embarrassed. We aren't tourists, remember? We're wanderers.
It turns out that we were just down the street from the promenade, and when we reached it we were embarrassed we ever thought it would be a dusty, overgrown trail. Our journey was worth it -- not just for the view of Haifa, but so that I could recreate this picture from 2000:
The last time I visited Israel, I was sixteen (and obviously a total fashionista). We arrived on a boat from Athens, Greece, pulling into the port in Haifa after days of seasickness, bad boat food, and mild claustrophobia. Haifa, a city on a hill that is compared to San Francisco (by others) and a sandcastle (by myself), must have looked magical. I remembered that, and 14 years later, I planned it as our first stop in Israel. And it was just... fine. Sure, we enjoyed our hyper-stylish boutique hotel and savored our first taste of real Middle Eastern hummus at Fattoush. The Bahai Gardens, a shrine to the founder of Bahai (a fascinating religion), are beautiful and worth a look.
But, and maybe this was because Haifa was our first stop, things just kept getting better and better and by the end of the trip, Haifa seemed like an afterthought.
On the plus side, we did invent a new catchphrase that's sweeping the world... it's so good we're giving ourselves a big... wait for it... Haifa-five. You love it. Admit it.
A few things about Israel: 1. I have lived on this Earth for 29 years, and never once have I run smack into a glass door. In Israel, it happened to me twice. It happened to Y once. Mazel tov, Israel, you pretty much have the cleanest glass in the world.
2. Sing it with me, everyone: ...and I'm proud to be an American....
3. On Sunday morning, our flight left from Tel Aviv at 5 am, with an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam, getting us home to Minneapolis at 7 pm the same day (so basically, we time traveled). Rather than go to sleep in Tel Aviv, we stayed up all night, fueled by ouzo shots and wine. When our plane landed in Amsterdam a few hours later, we took the train into the city for the day. In other words, I was an international jet setter on Sunday. On Monday, I did nothing but organize my medicine cabinet.
It was almost as much fun and left me with far less jet lag. 4. I'm currently spamming Instagram with photos from my trip. They're all from last week, and I realize this isn't how Instagram is intended to be used, but I don't actually care. For 2 reasons: 1) I don't think of Instagram as a way to gain followers or "enhance my brand". For me, it's just a scrapbook -- there have been plenty of times when I needed a pick me up and engaged in some instatherapy -- scrolling back through my pictures and realizing what a nice little life I have. 2) Despite sharing far too much about my life on the internet, I have a fear that if I post photos while I'm out of town someone is going to come steal all of my stuff (because people are clamoring for my Target wardrobe and Ikea furniture). Although, if anyone was paying attention, my absence from social media was probably even more suspicious...
Drag queens. Henri Matisse. Justin Timberlake. Elfaba. Butter churning.
Pop quiz: what do these things have in common?
My soul wants to make an N Sync joke, but I can't actually think of one. So I'll give you the real answer: they all relate to things I've been able to do the past few months but haven't written about. A lot of people think Minneapolis nothing more than a bunch of snow covered corn fields (and that I live in an igloo and the population is 4), but they're wrong and there is always something to do.
(Note: this post is part of my super secret campaign to convince all of my friends to come visit me.)
01. At 5 pm on a Saturday, a friend was scrolling through local music calendars on her phone and found a concert that sounded interesting. We stood in a crowd of less than 40 people in a tiny venue and discovered a new favorite, Wheeler Brothers (bonus: while talking to the singer after the show, we realized he and I went to college together at LSU) P.S. I wear my "Y'all" sweatshirt entirely too often. Hashtag normcore.
02. As a kind of bachelorette celebration for Megan, a friend and I decided to take her to Eggs and Drag, a combination drag show and brunch buffet. Not sure if it was the bottomless mimosas, but it was so much fun -- except for when we cried over the little girl in the crowd who was so proud of how pretty her daddy was in the drag show.
03. Creative Mornings recently started a chapter in Minneapolis. It's a monthly lecture series for creatives, but they should probably call it a monthly lecture series for hipsters because I have never seen so many beards in my life. And I've been to Portland. Regardless, I loved it, and I definitely plan to go back. The talk I went to was at the Minneapolis Photo Center, a gorgeous warehouse space, and I got a tour of a Vivian Maier exhibit that hadn't opened yet.
04. I loved the Matisse exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts so much I'm thinking about going back. I can't wait to see what they bring next.
05. North Coast Nosh happens every few months and it's basically my dream event. Local food vendors give out samples. And it is glorious. Macarons, sausages, ice cream, chai, granola, craft cocktails -- you know, the basic food groups. Full disclosure, I've been to this twice. The first time was amazing, and the second time was slightly disappointing. But both times we discovered some delicious under the radar local food, so, overall win.
06. Justin Timberlake. Need I say more?
07. Butter churning aerobics. Need I say more? Probably. To "spread the delight of artisan practices", a little group called Pop Soda tours the country teaching an aerobics class called Feel the Churn. We were each given two jars of cream, and then led in an aerobics routine where we shook the jars until they solidified. Then some "experts" strained the butter, pressed it into a block, and fed us delicious bread donated by a local bakery slathered with our homemade butter. Probably not the most effective workout, but definitely one of the most hilarious. The class was taught at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis's modern art museum, and the galleries were free that night, so we explored the museum (which was probably a better workout) and had dinner and drinks (a chai cocktail that I'll remember forever) at the museum restaurant.
08. When Wicked was in town, a friend and I tried our luck at the last minute ticket lottery. We won two second row tickets for $25 and celebrated with champagne on a rooftop. It was basically The Best Day.
09. The art crawl in Lowertown St. Paul was my first experience getting a glimpse into artists' lofts. I thought it was incredibly cool to see artists' work in their own lofts -- it added an extra dimension to their art and the process behind it.
I don't know about you, but I always bring a travel journal when I go on a trip. (Above, gold sharpie on a black moleskine, but how cute are these new notebooks from Rifle Paper?) How else would I record vivid memories and smart (really smart) commentary: All quotes from my Media in the British Isles study abroad program in 2005 (I had just turned 21). On what makes a good travel experience "I knew the trip was off the a good start when I sat next to the 2 cutest guys on the plane from Houston to Gatwick." On arriving in London and being confused
"We [exited the airport] to get on our mini bus... but we all crowded around the right side of the bus to get on. The bus driver was like UGH....." On Paris versus London
"J'adore Paris! Well, really J'adore London a lot more. " On history "We ended up at the tower of London, which I really thought they could have made more interesting." On things that are better than history
"Today we went to Topshop. It was AMAZING." On adventures "Olivia and I had a fabulous drunken heart to heart... then we peed in the bushes with the Finnish girls and got chased by a Quasimodo-ish bum." On Dave Matthews "It's like Dave and I always say: 'Turns out not where but who you're with that really matters.'"
For the first week of our honeymoon in Ireland, we successfully avoided tourist traps. We didn't kiss the Blarney stone or pay money to take a picture with a strategically placed leprechaun in a town square. Our trip was so off the beaten path.
And then we visited the Cliffs of Moher.
We were waiting in line behind five tour buses to pay eight Euro for parking when Y got grumpy. "Look at all of these tourists," he muttered, as I leaned out the window to take a photo of a sign written in Gaelic (or something equally not touristy). As we parked and followed the herd of people exiting their tour bus, his mood grew worse.
At that moment, we hit our first married milestone: the first time I referred to Y as Mr. Grumpy Pants.
There's a reason tourists (ourselves, of course, excluded, we are wanderers) flock to the Cliffs of Moher: they're beautiful. Really, really, beautiful. It's worth finding a quiet spot, if you can, and just taking it all in; letting the unrelenting wind, um, have its way with you.
Which brings me to my first travel tip: if you're going to be visiting a windy shore, maybe don't wear a maxi dress?
Once I found my quiet spot to enjoy the view of the Cliffs, the wind had other plans. My maxi dress, which I'd so carefully chosen for its effortlessly chic vibe, was anything but effortless at that moment-- the wind was hurtling it against my body, leaving absolutely nothing to the imaginations of the five buses full of tourists. Below, the one PG photo of me from this part of our journey:
I was horrified. Y thought it was hilarious. The tourists got back on their bus and headed off to wait in line to kiss the Blarney Stone
To this day, during an especially windy moment, you might hear me tell Y "Shit, I'm Cliffs of Moher-ing right now" as I frantically pull fabric away from my skin.
I've decided to whip my blogging self into shape by trying something that's never, ever been done before except for by every magazine ever and countless blogs: monthly themes (aka, an editorial calendar) based on the major themes in my life that month.
If I get super ambitious, maybe I'll come up with daily prompts, if not, I'll play it by ear.
To start off April, a month of travel stories, packing tips, photos, and more, I thought I would re-share my favorite, favorite travel story: the time I joined the likes of Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and basically 98% of the world's funny people and performed onstage at Second City.
Adopt a loose interpretation of the word "performed" and read: Chicago, 2008.
Bloggers, I'd love to know: what's worked for you to pull yourselves out of a blogging slump?