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Month: June 2017

Summer Reading List: Books to Read on Vacation

Summer Reading List: Books to Read on Vacation

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Like many of you, I typically take a vacation of a week or longer during the summertime, and one of the best ways I relax and unwind is curling up with a good book.

I love easy reads on vacation, but if I’m gone longer than a weekend I want to have some more serious books too, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction to choose from. That way as I finish each book, I have a lot of options of things to read next and can follow my mood in the moment (as I try to do on any good vacation).

I’ve divided my picks into categories of Easy Reading, Memoir, On a More Serious Note, Self Improvement, & Thriller.

Here’s what made it onto my ‘Summer Reading List’:

EASY READING

Neanderthal Marries Human

Penny Reid

I was first recommended this light-hearted author by someone in my book club as writing an easy read, smartly done. I read and enjoyed the first book Neanderthal Seeks Human when I was in Belize last month, and have been waiting for an equally relaxing trip to be lounging around and read what happens next.

Rich People Problems

Kevin Kwan

This is the third and latest book in Kwan’s series about the ultra-rich of Singapore. I first got into the series when I visited Singapore for the first time last November, and it gave such a great insight into life there that it made my list of 6 Books to Inspire Travel in 2017. I’m sure I’ll devour his latest book too during my summer reading binge on vacation.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Maria Semple

As far as I can tell, this book seems to be a cross between a comedy and a thriller, so I’ve stuck it here in ‘Easy Reading.’ About an eclectic mother-architect who disappears, and all of the creative ways her daughter tries to track her down. I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but it certainly sounds entertaining.

MEMOIR

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

Lindy West

I’ve had a library hold on this one for over 6 months (since December of last year – yes, I looked it up), but the timing of it becoming available is lining up perfectly for me to be able to read it on vacation this summer. West’s attitude seems to be to find humor and fun on this crazy journey we call life, and she sounds so hilarious that I want to be along for the ride.

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

Bill Buford

What kind of stories would you have to tell if you were a home cook that decided to go work for Mario Batali for a year? Bill Buford found out and tells all, providing entertainment along the way. Other than being funny, this also hits on two of my greatest loves: food & Italy. I can’t wait to savor this one!

ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE

Everything, Everything

Nicola Yoon

About a girl who is allergic to the world and hasn’t left her house in nearly two decades. The book seems to pick up when a boy moves in next door and she’s sure she’ll fall in love with him. Due to the girl’s condition, I think there are more serious aspects to this one, although this might be the lightest read of my serious ones. I’ll have to read them all to find out for sure!

It Can’t Happen Here

Sinclair Lewis

Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis is possibly most well known for his novel Babbitt, however this novel written during the Great Depression about how fascism can take over has found a new audience in modern times. It sounds like a classic that still rings true today, and I’ve been loving some of the older books I’ve read that still have wisdom for the current day.

Mrs. Fletcher

Tom Perrotta

About a mid-forties divorced woman with a son recently off to college, I think this one is a combination of wacky entertaining and deep insights into love and relationships as the characters make mistakes along the way. Another of the lighter, serious reads.

Standard Deviation

Katherine Heiny

This one is not world politics serious, and is supposed to have many funny moments, but it seems to examine the nature of love and family in a deep way so I’ve mentally placed it as one of my summer reading books that may require deep thought. A man seems to be happily married with a son, and then the first wife comes back into the picture, causing him to reexamine his choices.

Exit West

Mohsin Hamid

This is a love story set in a tumultuous, unnamed country about to have a civil war. As violence escalates, the couple decide to leave and the novel tracks their journey. Another one of those summer reading books that I’m expecting will be engaging, but also make me think about the issues it raises.

SELF-IMPROVEMENT

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Mark Manson

I read one of blogger Mark Mason’s posts that went viral on 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose (which I highly recommend!) and his unique perspective had me hooked. So of course when I found out he wrote a book, I was intrigued. When I found out he wrote a book about how to focus your effort in life to be happier, I immediately added this book to my summer reading list. Manson is wonderfully honest, but has a turn-your-world-upside-down style that I want to fully absorb on vacation, away from the hectic pace of everyday life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Marie Kondo

Fine, so I might like to hold onto objects for longer than most people. Some might even call me a hoarder. But for me things = memories, whether it’s a Broadway ticket stub from the 90s or a map of Mainz, Germany that I picked up on my wanderings there a few years ago. Of course, there is the other perspective, coming from the acclaimed founder of her own method for organizing. I’m calling it now that I won’t take all of the recommendations she makes, but I am curious to see what I might be able to incorporate into my life to make it better.

THRILLER

Camino Island

John Grisham

About a heist at a Princeton University library and a rare book dealer in Florida, you can already start to see how the drama unfolds. Even though this is not a book about lawyers, it does seem to be a thriller like most of Grisham’s novels, so easy summer reading.

Good as Gone

Amy Gentry

Portraying every parent’s worst nightmare, a teenager is kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night. Then, years later, someone claiming to be the missing daughter reappears. I feel like I’ve seen a similar scenario on a TV show once, but I love a good thriller to race through cover to cover when I’m on vacation and have the time.

Where are you headed this summer? Do you know what books you’ll be reading yet? Any great summer books that didn’t make my list? I love book recommendations, let me know what your favorite summer reads are!

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SUMMER READING LIST - What Books to Check Out!

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Cefalù: Perfect Day Trip from Palermo, Sicily

Cefalù: Perfect Day Trip from Palermo, Sicily

Palermo, Sicily makes for a great weekend trip, and there are also great spots around the city that you can easily fit into your trip (like Cefalù) especially if you make your visit a long weekend. I’m so glad that my friend Isabel and I planned for an extra day, which let us enjoy one of my favorite formats for 3-day weekend trips – a city day on each end with the middle day to spend outdoors or doing something active.

Visiting Cefalù involved an active morning followed by a relaxing afternoon swimming and lounging on the beach – and we were still able to be back to Palermo easily in time for dinner. And the hiking, the beach, and the sights in town and in the hills above Cefalù were all quite memorable.

Here’s what we loved doing on this day trip from Palermo:

Things to Do

Around Town

Cefalù Cathedral

Cathedral Cefalu Sicily Italy20150621_131342

The building itself is distinctive, and it looks like a cross between a fortress and a church, with some very unusual architecture. Once you go inside, the interior is like a traditional church, with some beautiful artwork. A visit doesn’t take long, so it’s worth stopping in even if you only have a few minutes.

Beach

Reward after our hike - beach time!
Reward after our hike – beach time!

After hiking up and down a mountain on a hot day, there’s nothing I like to do more than head to the beach and take a dip. Cefalù’s beach is easily accessible from the center, and not far from where the hike lets you off in town. And since Sicily is further south than other parts of Italy, it was pleasant swimming weather and a refreshing water temperature already in mid-late June when I visited.

TIP! There is a fair bit of beachfront, so walk a bit if needed to find a good spot. There are also many areas with lounge chairs that you can rent, so find one with spots available.

TIP! If you’re lucky like we were, people will be walking up and down the beach offering massages at discount prices. Especially if you’ve been hiking, it’s a great way to relax tired muscles.

Shopping

Cefalù is enough of a tourist destination in summer that there are many shops lining its medieval cobblestone streets. All sorts of Sicilian specialties are available, from the traditional blue and yellow tiles to culinary specialties like pistachio pesto and local wine. It’s a great spot to pick up some souvenirs.

Off the Beaten Path

Hike to La Rocca & Temple of Diana

La Rocca Hike Cefalu Sicily Italy 20150621_121855La Rocca Hike Cefalu Sicily Italy 20150621_122634

Besides the beach, this hike above town was the main reason we visited. It is steep enough to have beautiful views at the top, but overall it was not too strenuous, taking around a half hour to reach the top. Once you ascend, there are spread out ruins and sweeping views of the coast to appreciate as you linger as long as you like.

La Rocca Hike Cefalu Sicily Italy 20150621_115010

Where to Eat – Best Bites

Non Solo Pane

Arrancino Non Solo Pane Cefalu Sicily Italy20150621_130641

This is a great spot to pick up bites to go before (or after) your hike, as it has a lot of portable food and is located near the bottom of the stairs that take you to and from the first section of hiking. I grabbed some of Sicily’s most portable food – arrancini – stuffed rice balls with different fillings, which are then coated in bread crumbs and fried. There is a reason this dish is a local one!

Ristorante Helios

Pastries Dolci Ristorante Helios Cefalu Sicily Italy20150622_082459

There are savory food options as well, but I can only vouch for the pastries, which were a delicious snack. And let’s be real, the rest was breakfast the next morning. Get at least one item with pistachios, which are grown locally in Sicily. You can taste the freshness and flavor of the nut so well.

Obviously with the morning hike and food on-the-go I didn’t end up having any sit-down meals, but there are quite a lot of highly-rated restaurants around town, especially for seafood.

TIP! If you’re looking for an Italian seal of approval, I find Google reviews to be more accurate for places in Italy since locals are more likely to review a restaurant there than on one of the other review websites.

(More) Practical Tips for Visiting

Come by train

Trains run very frequently from Palermo and along the coast in between, and it only takes a little less than an hour to arrive. Unless you’re already renting a car for a road trip around Sicily, the train is the most convenient way to get to Cefalù, and the ride from Palermo is quite scenic.

TIP! Check the schedule ahead of time for your return trip to Palermo, so you have a sense of what your options are.

TIP! It’s not unusual for trains to run late in Italy, so leave a bit of extra time if there’s a specific time you need to be back in Palermo.

Avoid August (if you can)

August is peak travel time across Europe, and you’ll have a far more crowded experience if you visit then. I had a great visit to Palermo and Cefalù in late June – it was warm enough to swim and shops and restaurants were open, but it wasn’t super busy with tourists yet.

Are there any sights around Cefalù that I missed? What other trips from Palermo or around Sicily would you recommend?

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How to Spend One Day in Cefalu Sicily Italy - Perfect Day Trip from Palermo

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Summer Bucket List: Making the Most of the Season

Summer Bucket List: Making the Most of the Season

Summer is a season where as a child you likely were off from school, and had a whole bunch of activities to enjoy while on vacation. For me, the thought of summer evokes the warmth of the summer sun and memories of playing and frolicking outside while I could. In a way, even then, I had a ‘Summer Bucket List.’

Even though I’m an adult older now, not much has changed. I’ll use any excuse to stay outdoors and have the wind on my face and feel the heat of the sun’s rays. From taking a road trip to dining outside, there are so many ways to take advantage of summer, even if big travel is not in the cards.

Some of these may pass you by if you’re not actively planning, so now is the time to get your ‘Summer Bucket List’ for this year started!

Head to the beach

Beach Western Australia Summer Bucket List DSC_0205

No ‘Summer Bucket List’ would be complete without some time at the shore. Hot weather is tolerable up to a point, and then all you really want is somewhere to cool off. I love days at the beach because I can cool off in the water, then stay on the sand to dry off and warm up. And depending on which beach you’re at, there will be other activities you can enjoy there as well.

Go camping

It’s not so much fun shivering in a tent, but in warm weather, camping is lovely. This is something you probably won’t want to do for a lot of the year, so block off the time now to get out there. Especially since many campsites fill up in summertime and you may need to reserve in advance, this might be the hardest item on the ‘Summer Bucket List’ to make happen without some forethought.

Cook on a campfire (& make s’mores, of course!)

Camping is great, but even if you don’t go, you can still cook like you are out in nature. Roast some marshmallows, cook some meat on a stick, and get the flavor of the outdoors into your food. And if it gets chilly in the evening, you can warm yourself by the fire.

Watch the sun set

Sunset Western Australia Summer Bucket List DSC_0360

If it’s cold outside, it’s hard for me to get motivated to stand around outside, but in the summertime there are tons of excuses to be outside and watch the sun set. Be sure to pay attention so you don’t miss the beautiful colors for however many moments they last.

Go on a road trip

Road Trip San Francisco CA USA Summer Bucket List CIMG1005

Driving in cold weather is fine, but it’s so much more enjoyable for me when the weather is nice. Between rolling the windows down and having the breeze blow by, it’s a great way to take in beautiful surroundings, and stop anywhere the mood strikes.

READ MORE: Tips for Taking a Road Trip in Europe

Take a hike

Hiking Lugano Switzerland Summer Bucket List 20150926_105648

I don’t mean this in a mean way, I literally mean go hiking somewhere. If it’s the peak of summer you’ll want to do this earlier before the heat of the day, but there are lots of great hiking spots that aren’t too strenuous in the heat. And in the summer sun, the views will be amazing!

Travel somewhere cooler

I realize that not everyone is a summer baby like me, so you may not be as comfortable in the absolute heat of the season. Summer can be a great time to venture somewhere with a typically colder climate. I went on a great Alaskan cruise during summer, and lots of people head to places with less extreme temperatures.

Dine at a table outside

Eat Outside Baltimore Maryland USA Summer Bucket List 20170529_113906 (2)

For me, it’s a totally different experience to dine out with a heat lamp as opposed to just enjoying a naturally hot day. Summer is a time of year that I try to eat outside whenever possible, and luckily plenty of restaurants by me offer outdoor seating. Enjoy the novelty while it lasts!

Head to a rooftop bar

Aperol Terrace Rooftop Bar Milan Italy Summer Bucket List

The warm weather of summer is definitely the time to head to a rooftop bar. Being a bit higher up means great people watching, and if you’re lucky, a bit of a breeze as well. It’s never as fun for me to go to a rooftop bar in winter when the space is enclosed – I much prefer the open air of summer.

See an outdoor sports game

Baseball Game Camden Yards Baltimore Maryland USA Summer Bucket List 20170505_191611

In the US, it’s baseball season, and there are plenty of other outdoor sporting events to attend wherever you are in the world. It’s a chance to support your local team while enjoying the atmosphere of being outside. And it may not be the healthiest, but I love stadium dining once in a while.

Drink iced coffee

When it’s wintertime, I always like my coffee hot, but there’s just something refreshing about iced coffee on a hot day. If you’re a caffeine fiend like me, freeze some coffee so it stays just as strong when the ice melts, but enjoy coffee as a cold beverage to fuel your other summer endeavors.

Enjoy some light summer reading

I like reading a mix of serious and light reads, but summertime for me is mostly about books that are not too weighty. Especially if I’m on vacation. There are a million settings where you can enjoy the nice weather of summer and get engrossed in a novel, find the one that works for you. Or read a book that will inspire your next trip!

BBQ

BBQ Barbecue Cookout Summer Bucket List DSC_0473

Whether it’s for a group of friends or just for yourself, the warm weather of summer is the perfect time to cook outside over a fire. The flavor of a grill just screams summer for me, and I love cooking outside as much as I can!

Go on a picnic

Enjoying the outdoors doesn’t necessarily mean planning elaborate travel. It can be as simple as a day trip to a beautiful spot, where you can enjoy a lunch as simple or as intricate as you’d like. And if you do go on that hike, enjoy a picnic lunch along the way.

Take a boat ride

Boat Perth Australia Summer Bucket List CIMG1544

I’m lucky to live quite close to the water, with a water taxi nearby. Even if it’s just traveling across the harbor, there is something so lovely about getting out on a boat. And it’s all the more wonderful when you have extended time to be out on a boat tour, or if you’re lucky enough to have a boat (or know someone who does). Take advantage this summer!

Watch an outdoor movie or play

Lots of cities around the world offer outdoor movies during the summer season or some variation on a play in a park. I even saw an outdoor opera once! There are plenty of performances outside, or even movie screenings to enjoy, be sure to block off the time.

Eat your favorite summer foods again and again

There are certain foods that evoke summertime. Perhaps it’s a slice of watermelon or a barbecued corn-on-the-cob. Indulge those summer memories and seek out your favorite foods of the season.

Plan fall travel!

I’ve actually already started planning for fall this week. I booked a long weekend in Detroit to visit friends in early October, and am eyeing possible foodie weekends in a few spots, including Mexico City. Even though it’s time to savor summer, don’t forget about taking advantage of slightly cooler temperatures when autumn arrives.

What do you have planned for the summer? Anything I should add to my ‘Summer Bucket List’? Tell me all about in in the ‘Comments’ below!

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Summer Bucket List - How to Make the Most of the Season

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Rules for Travel That I Swear By

Rules for Travel That I Swear By

Travel is something so personal, so particular to the individual, that it might seem weird to think about rules for travel. Certainly you should take trips that work for you, but over lots of different types of travel – backpacking, luxury, weekend getaways, & everything in between – I have honed my own travel savvy guidelines for making the most of any trip:

Parma Dairy Italy Rules to Travel By 20141005_114853

The first time you see something you like, buy it. It sounds simple enough, but in the moment of traveling, I often succumb to wondering if the price will be better if I wait and find the item somewhere else or if I’ll find something I like more later. Overwhelmingly, any time I didn’t buy something I liked, I went on to regret it (like that oil and vinegar holder shaped like a bunch of grapes in Siena, Italy that I didn’t buy). Often you won’t see something again, or the next version will be pricier, which is how this became one of my top rules for travel.  You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you just buy something you want, when you see it first.

Al Alam Palace Muscat Oman Rules to Travel By DSC_0556

Keep expectations low. I don’t mean to be a downer here, and you don’t always have to assume the worst case scenario, but when traveling it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of contingency planning. Or at least keep expectations minimal. Either an experience will meet your low expectations . . . or you’ll end up pleasantly surprised, like I did at the Al Alam Palace in Muscat, Oman (pictured above). When you have high hopes going into the unknown, it often results in disappointment, while starting off with low expectations often results in surprise and delight!

Placencia Belize Rules to Travel By DSC_0298

Minimize the number of different places you sleep. It’s always nicer to have a home base for a few consecutive nights than packing up all your stuff and checking out each morning. On my recent 8-night trip to Belize, I only stayed in 2 different places (San Ignacio & Placencia) and loved using these spots as jumping off points for excursions and exploring during the day. That said, sometimes you do have several consecutive single nights to accommodate your itinerary, and the rules for travel go out the window. But when this happens, I try to pad it on either side with multiple nights somewhere, which helps avoid extra re-packing and maximizes travel time each day.

Bathroom Sign Cambodia Rules to Travel By2012-12-28 12.00.55
Pay attention to (and follow!) local norms. Really take in your surroundings and how the local people behave. This can be anything from how to order at the neighborhood coffee shop to how people ride public transportation. And an important one in many places with basic sewage systems – in the bathroom, when you notice a trash bin filled with toilet paper, it means that the toilet paper shouldn’t be flushed, and you should follow suit.

The main stretch of shops in Puerto Escondido, with the beach behind it.

Crowd source all street directions. Definitely don’t assume that because you asked a local how to get somewhere, that you got accurate information. First of all, in some cultures people never say they don’t know something, so you might be getting directions from someone completely clueless. But even if not, a local can be mistaken or confused about where you’re heading. If I’m turned around, I’ll ask one person for directions that I start following, but maybe a minute later I’ll ask someone else, and again a few minutes later. If you talk to enough people, you’ll be pointed the right way!

Sri Lanka Colombo backpack with Emirates First tag Rules to Travel By

Look like you have nothing of value. I’m not really a backpacker anymore most times that I travel, but I sure look like one most of the time. Pickpockets and the like are always sizing people up based on appearances, so I try to look like I own nothing worth stealing. Although I flew Emirates First to Sri Lanka (thanks, free upgrade!), I took my large backpack as my suitcase, which meant that when the 1st class car was sold out, I was able to take the 2nd class train cars within the country without being a target. And on my recent trip around Asia, Australia, and the Middle East, I traveled with my old, shredding, barely-white-anymore cloth purse. Even though I had a fair bit of cash on me at the outset, no one even showed remote interest in my ratty handbag, which is just the way I like it.

St. Peter's Vatican City Holy See Rules to Travel By 20150928_112240

Be aware of your surroundings. This is one of my top rules for travel.  It’s easy to get caught up in sightseeing, but it is at the most incredible sights that people are likely to prey on tourists. Enjoy your travels, but don’t do it at the expense of a bit of travel savvy. There’s a lot you can tell about a place just by observing, so make it a point to consciously check out the area around you as you go, and trust your gut instincts if something doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t need to be logical, but only stick around the areas where you feel comfortable.

San Ignacio Belize Rules to Travel By 20170512_111109

Take calculated risks. No matter how you travel, or how much you plan out ahead of time, you’ll inevitably end up in situations where you’ll need to trust someone. Like that time my friend and I left our bags behind to swim to the island of Bled in Slovenia. Or on my recent Belize trip when I brought my valuables to a local waterfall for the day, fairly certain that it would be small enough I could easily watch my things, and that they’d be safer with me than left unattended at my guesthouse. Be cautious, but caution doesn’t mean taking *no* risks.

Verona Italy stairs Rules to Travel By DSC_0588

Pack as if you will have to carry your luggage up and down stairs by yourself. Because let’s be real, often you will. Even in decently fancy places, there is not always an elevator and the bellhop may not be nearby when you arrive or leave. And there have been countless times in airports that I’ve boarded outside where you have to climb up and down the stairs yourself. If you can’t carry your luggage, you’ve packed too much!

READ MORE: Why the Best Packing Strategy is to Pack as Poorly as Possible

London UK Train Station Rules to Travel By 20161024_102531

If you have the opportunity to take an earlier bus or train, do it! Transportation can be unpredictable and you never know what might happen if you wait. I’ve passed on the opportunity to take an earlier mostly empty bus, only to find myself later elbowing hordes of people to catch the next bus that arrives, already overcrowded. Even if you’ve pre-booked a ticket for later transportation, you can often ride sooner for no extra cost if you just ask.

Corollary: Transit time always takes longer than you think, so plan accordingly. Even at home, buses and trains and planes don’t always arrive on time. And in foreign countries, you usually have no idea how reliable transportation is until after you arrive. Plan your itinerary to allow for some buffer time between connections, to ensure you don’t miss a key transfer.

Cave at Wadi Khalid, Oman R

Say yes to the unexpected! Some of my best travel experiences have been when I took a leap of faith and yes to something outside of my comfort zone, like having a local we had just met guide me and my sister through a cave in Oman. Or putting complete faith in a restaurant owner to serve me a mix of the best dishes, without asking about the price. Still not convinced? Read the book Yes Man, one of my Top Books to Inspire Travel, about all the adventures you’ll have if you say yes more.

Do you follow any of the same ‘rules for travel’? Are there other rules that guide your travel? I’d love to hear them!

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Rules for Travel That I Swear By

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Confessions of a Travel Addict (& all the other ways I get my fix)

Confessions of a Travel Addict (& all the other ways I get my fix)

As I walk out of the theater, the bustle of Times Square and the city of New York surrounds me, but I am pleasantly removed from it all as I float along, caught up in my thoughts. Thinking about the play, considering the characters.

I can’t bear the thought of checking my cell phone to see what happened in the intervening time. So I don’t.

I am drawn toward Central Park, so begin meandering north. I feel an urgent need for some beauty and nature – trees & grass & sky. Things that are green and blue. Things that are vibrantly alive.

NYC IMG_20170607_174930_974

And standing there in this spot, seeing the NYC skyscrapers yet also seeing the leaves framing it, I know that in a world that feels like it’s gone mad sometimes, maybe art and beauty is all we have?

“Rome is burning, and you want to put on a play?”
“Rome is always burning.”
-‘Indecent’

Indecent, which I saw last week, was the Broadway play that inspired these feelings and musings. While set nearly 100 years ago, it resonated with me on a deep level and felt incredibly applicable to today’s world. It’s not the time to shy away from art, it’s the time to embrace it wholeheartedly.

And in the age of a constant news cycle, it’s so each to become numb and desensitized, with people already spinning the news before the facts have even been reported, theater helps you to feel.

Latest Broadway Playbills Confessions of a Travel Addict DSC_0863

I love experiencing the rush of seeing the world outside with completely different eyes after emerging from live theater, done well. A story that takes you on a journey, and at the end, the actors have laid bare the core of humanity and touched your soul. And you want to extend that moment for as long as possible.

That is the life cycle of watching a play or musical live, and I crave the experience. And writing it all out and thinking about the emotions live theater evokes for me, was when I realized it. The arc of live theater is just like the arc of travel for me. >And I just can’t get enough.

Stages of the Travel Experience

My grandfather always said that there are three stages of travel: the anticipation, the experience of travel itself, and savoring the memories afterward. He was right, of course, although I complicate most things and find a bit more nuance to the arc of the travel experience.

And yes, I’m admittedly a travel addict, but I also can’t get enough of live theater. Or spending days outdoors hiking or rock climbing. What is it that I crave about each of those experiences, travel included?

Planning & Anticipation

Okay, so my grandpa was right about this part, the pre-trip experience is all about the anticipation! Of what you might see or do when you travel. For me, this often involves doing some research in advance. But even if I don’t make it anywhere on my list, just going through that planning process gives me satisfaction. Whether it’s which play to see, where to go hiking, or what travel destination I’ll hit up next, the anticipation is always the first part of the experience for me.

Uncertainty

Of course, no how little or how much advance planning you undertake, life is unpredictable. But this uncertainty, for me, is also part of the emotional journey. Wondering what a new country be like when I arrive, what is around the next bend of the hike, what will the main character of a play do when caught in an impossible choice. Even on the unusual occasion when things do go as planned, you don’t know that it will happen ahead of time, it only becomes apparent when you’re in that moment. Keeping you on your toes, experiencing the world.

Emotions Along the Way

Of course, not every travel experience is wonderful. I’ve heard people often say that it will either be a great experience or a great story. Like possibly my craziest hotel check-in ever in Bulgaria last summer (great story) or the wonderful time I had on my recent visit to Belize (great experience). In the rush of emotions, good or bad, I always feel palpably alive, and try to savor the full range of emotions that I’m experiencing.

A Change in Perspective

For experiences that really touch you, whether seeing a transformative theater performance or taking that life-changing trip, you never quite look at the world in the same way. I like to think that I come out of these experiences with new eyes. Taking a kinder look at a stranger after exposure to a different culture or the opportunity to see the world through another point of view. And I crave whatever experience will shake things up for me!

Rock Climbing in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Rock Climbing in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Reflection

Now to that post-travel step my grandfather always talked about. Looking back and savoring the journey. When I reflect, I find myself wanting to extend those moments just a little bit longer, like I experienced on a recent theater-going day. Whether it is walking for a bit completely disengaged from technology like I did last week in New York, or delaying unpacking when you return home from a big trip because you want the visual reminder of where you’ve been, looking back is a special part of the experience for me as well.

End of the Journey

There is always a sense of catharsis or the satisfaction of having reached the end of a journey, and that moment of calm is part of the emotional cycle that keeps me a travel addict – always coming back for more. It’s a form of meditation, when your mind is naturally blank after a day of physical or emotional exertion, or at the end of a trip. Even if a theater performance provokes unease or I feel more exhaustion than satisfaction for all of those great travel stories, there is still a sense of calm and peacefulness at each experience coming to a close.

Until Next Time

If you’re a travel addict like me, you know what happens next. The moment one journey finishes of course, you’re looking forward to when you get to have the experience all over again! Feeling the emotional highs and lows, pushing yourself to your limits, and getting to the essence of what it means to be alive.

 

There’s no denying that the arc of travel for me is an experience that stretches me to grow in beautiful and unexpected ways. Even when I am not traveling, the drive for those emotions is so strong that I’ve found all sorts of other ways to fulfill that urge. To feel my humanity. To take that journey. To acutely experience being alive.

So that’s when I plan an outing to see live theater. Or go on a hike. Or spend a day rock climbing in a beautiful location.

I’ve been an avid theater-goer for the last 20 years, almost to the day. I’ve been rock climbing for 23 years, and hiking since I was little. Even several decades after I began to do each, I still actively seek out these things. Nourishing my soul. And I travel. A lot.

The truest confession of this travel addict? I am unapologetically hooked.

Do you find the same fulfillment that I do from the experience of travel? And when you’re not on the road, how do you get your “travel fix”? Are you seeking out activities with similar emotional experiences like I seem to be? I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights, share away in the ‘Comments’ below!

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Confessions of a Travel Addict and All the Other Ways I Get My Fix

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Foodie Bucket List: How to Eat Like a Local in Belize

Foodie Bucket List: How to Eat Like a Local in Belize

Belize is a bit of a melting pot, with its food representing many different influences, all delicious.

The varied cuisine in Belize is no surprise, given that it is located at a crossroads between Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. There are also Mayan influences dating back thousands of years, seen in the many Belizean dishes based around corn tortillas and beans.

Before visiting, I spent a bit of time researching and compiling a list of local dishes that are typical to Belize, and my mouth was watering before I even got on the plane. Some of them may sound familiar from similar Mexican or Caribbean dishes, served with a Belizean spin.

What’s nice about Belize is that most of these dishes are widely available, especially those served by the ubiquitous street food vendors. You won’t have to venture far to sample a particular food or struggle to locate the one restaurant in town serving a specific dish, like I’ve done in other places I’ve visited.

It will also be easy to converse with your restaurant server or street vendor if you have any questions about a dish or its ingredients, since Belize’s official language in English. It’s very easy to navigate your culinary experiences, one of the many reasons I found it such an easy place to travel.

READ MORE: 9 Reasons Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

Belize also has international influences of course, with some high-end restaurants boasting French and Italian influences. For me though, with my limited time visiting, I was happy to stick to the local specialties. And with the ease of conversing in English with everyone, I even got a few cooking tips for replicating Belizean dishes at home.

Here’s what I enjoyed:

Breakfast

Fry Jacks

I enjoyed fry jacks nearly every morning for breakfast. Basically, it’s fried dough, and will come in different consistencies and sizes depending on who is making them. I think I liked all of the versions I had! It is most often served with eggs and refried beans:

Fry Jacks How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170516_085957

I also enjoyed stuffed jacks, in which the fry jack is sliced open and filled with a scrambled egg mixture (at breakfast) or beans and cheese (later in the day):

Stuffed Fry Jacks How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170510_081147Stuffed Fry Jacks How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170511_195516

Johnny Cakes

Johnny Cake Journey Cake How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170513_072256

A johnny cake (also known as a journey cake, because you take it to go when you’re heading on a trip) is like a corn biscuit. It’s dry and flaky, and usually served as a sandwich with fillings inside. I only tried it once and didn’t love it, so the next morning I was back to eating fry jacks. It’s definitely worth sampling though, and maybe you’ll enjoy a better version than I had!

Lunch, Dinner, & Snacks

Panades

Panades How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170511_194606

This is the first of several snack variations you’ll find in Belize made with corn tortillas and toppings or filling. The terms panades refers to small tortilla pockets that are stuffed with meat – it’s just like a crunchy empanda, but typically smaller and also served with a bit of slaw on top.

Garnaches

Garnachas How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170512_144632

To make garnaches, (or garnachas) small tortillas are fried and then topped with refried beans, onions and sometimes other vegetables, and cheese. The refried beans are applied like a spread, and the soft topping contrast with the crunch of the tortilla underneath. It’s like an open-faced sandwich or flat taco.

Salbutes

Salbutes How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170510_140449

Salbutes are another variation of tortilla and toppings. This time the small tortillas are deep fried, so even crunchier than garnaches, and then topped with shredded chicken, pickled onions, and other vegetables. It doesn’t look like much, but these little bites are actually quite filling.

Conch

Conch Fritter How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170508_115332

Conch season runs from October 1st until late June, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy it in its different culinary forms if you visit during that itme. A conch fritter was the first thing that I ate when I arrived in Belize, and it was a satisfying bite of the seafood surrounded by a rich batter and fried to a golden brown. Conch is also frequently served in ceviche or as part of a soup.

Hudut

Hudut How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170508_190801

This is a traditional dish of the Garifuna people, of Afro-Caribbean descent. It involves fish cooked in coconut broth with a plantain paste. It’s not all that different from some coconut-based Asian dishes. And it’s an incredibly flavorful way to enjoy some of Belize’s freshest products.

Rice & Beans

Rice and Beans How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170509_160140

Rice and beans is the Belizean national dish, and often said so quickly it sounds like a single word – riceanbeans. It may be different than other versions you’ve tasted because the mix is cooked in coconut milk. Most typically it is served with stewed chicken, although any meat will do.

The versions varied a lot, and in general had a pretty small bean to rice ratio, which is different from other rice and bean dishes I’ve had. And of course, some restaurants had more flavorful versions than others. Street vendors with large silver pots are probably selling an excellent version of rice and beans.

Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170513_114413

Although I wouldn’t recommend consuming hot sauce on its own, this is a condiment that you’ll see everywhere, from the food stand at the bus station to a proper sit-down restaurant. The most popular hot sauce is Marie’s, a Belizean-owned company that has been producing award-winning hot sauces since the 1980s. Usually one of their more basic habanero hot sauces will be on the table as a condiment next to the salt and pepper shakers.

Hot Sauce How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170510_140604

There are also homemade spicy concoctions that might appear either instead of or in addition to a bottle of Marie’s. It’s a mixture of chopped onions and habaneros, usually made quite spicy for the local palate.

Dessert

Banana Bread

Banana bread (or a banana cake) may not be the dessert that first comes to mind when you think of Central America, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Belize grows a lot of bananas – usually for export – however, the ones that aren’t pretty enough for export get sold locally for cheap. And so the locals of course make dessert! I don’t think I managed any pictures, although I did enjoy moist banana bread twice during my stay.

Chocolate

Chocolate How to Eat Like a Local in Belize DSC_0117

Chocolate-making is an old Mayan tradition in Belize. As I learned on my chocolate-making tour, Belizean chocolate actually comes from a different cacao plant than most or all the chocolate you’ve ever had. I really enjoyed the local chocolate, as it is less bitter than your typical dark chocolate and has lots of flavors that come through as you chew. Honestly, with all the different aromatic notes, it felt like I was at a wine tasting, not a chocolate tasting! Even if you don’t get to taste Belizean chocolate on a tour, there are plenty of local chocolates on sale, including at the airport.

Beverages

Fresh Juices

Fresh Juice How to Eat Like a Local in Belize DSC_0307

Especially at street food stands, you’ll see a pretty good list of fresh juices on order. Typically beverages are prepared in advance, and then ladled out of large containers for your drink. One local option is called soursop, from the native fruit also known in Spanish as guanabana, and fortunately not sour at all. There are other seasonal fruit options, and frequently horchata, a Mexican rice-based beverage, is also available.

Belikin Beer

Belikin Beer How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170511_213012

Belikin beer is considered one of Belize’s national treasures, and is the one beer you’ll see everywhere alcohol is served. In fact, when you order, asking for a “Belikin” means their regular lager. While requesting “a Stout” undoubtedly results in a Belikin Stout being served to you. Their third variety is the Lighthouse, Belikin’s light beer.

The one thing that I had read before my trip and definitely noticed the first time I sipped a beer with dinner – bottles of Belikin beer are smaller than usual! Belikin bottles are around 280 mL, while a typical beer bottle is 330mL. So you may go through it quicker than you expect.

Local Rum

Local Rum How to Eat Like a Local in Belize 20170512_195320

Belize is a country known for its sugarcane, so it also has lots of local rum producers. Its rum is used in lots of cocktails, and also treated as a sipping beverage, especially for the reserve rums or aged varieties. The favorite rum that I tried was the Tiburon aged rum that had a lot of complexity, and I sipped it as an accompaniment with rice and beans.

The 3 things I didn’t taste

Fried Chicken

I think about fried chicken first as an American bar food, although there are many traditions around the world that include fried chicken (Korea comes to mind). Coupled with fried food being typical in hot climates and the prevalence of hot sauce, there was quite a bit of fried chicken available in Belize.

I had intended to try fried chicken wings at a street vendor in San Ignacio my last night there, but had a late lunch that day and couldn’t muster up the appetite.

Lobster

Belize is famous for its lobster, although the season does not begin until June 15th each year, so I was too early to enjoy this specialty. I’m already thinking about a return trip to Belize, and if I do go again, I would definitely plan the timing to align with the many lobster festivals that take place along the coastal and island towns from mid to late June to celebrate the start of the season.

Cashew Wine

I love the taste of cashews, so I was very curious about cashew wine. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, none of the local bars or restaurants I visited had it available by the glass. And in duty free, the only bottle of cashew wine available was a gigantic 1-liter in size.

The best way to sample cashew wine as far as I can tell is to take a cooking class where it is served, or to go on a tour of locally produced food and drinks that includes a cashew wine tasting.

Cashew Fruit How to Eat Like a Local in Belize DSC_0203

On the upside, I did get to try cashew fruit (pictured above) that was picked fresh from a tree when I was on a Chocolate-making and Waterfalls tour. It was a bit sweet and nutty, with very juicy flesh. Just watch out if you get a fresh cashew fruit because while the fruit is delicious, the nut in the center is actually toxic until roasted.

Have you been to Belize? What were your favorite dishes that you ate there? Anything else I should add to my ‘Foodie Bucket List’?

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9 Reasons Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

9 Reasons Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

Belize is a destination that over-delivers, with unexpected adventure and incredibly easy travel on any budget.

My decision to visit Belize was a bit last-minute, so it ended up being a solo trip, since there wasn’t enough time to coordinate with anyone and I had a narrow time window that worked with my schedule. Certainly I love to travel solo, although I do think about and plan my travel a bit differently when I know I’ll be on my own.

READ MORE: How to Plan Solo Travel in 8 Easy Steps

Although I did a bit of extra planning and coordinated one organized tour in advance, a lot of the additional preparation was not needed. It was just such an easy place to visit, with really incredible sights to see and explore once you arrived! It even boasts the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the western hemisphere, making for great water adventures as well.

Even for those who can be a bit apprehensive about international travel, visiting Belize is a very relaxed and easy vacation to enjoy.

#1 | People are Friendly

I had only stopped for a moment after arriving in San Ignacio by bus, to glance at the map on my phone to locate my guesthouse. During this brief pause, the police officer directing traffic at the nearby roundabout headed my way to ask if he could help me find my destination.

This encounter was typical of many I had in Belize, with locals approaching you to offer help if you paused and looked confused. Or even if you approached them, like I did when I first arrived at the Belize Bus Station from the airport, offering comprehensive and helpful information to help you arrive at your destination smoothly or just taking the time to get to know you and see how you’re liking your time in Belize.

#2 | Everyone speaks English

#2 English British Commonwealth Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination DSC_0716 (2)

I don’t think it registered with me before my trip that Belize is part of the British Commonwealth. Until I saw Queen Elizabeth on all their currency, anyway! Belize only gained independence in 1981 (quite recently as Commonwealth countries go), and everyone I encountered there spoke English. Certainly for native English speakers, or those of other nationalities with even rudimentary English skills, this takes out a lot of the stress of visiting a foreign country.

While English is the official language, certainly Spanish is widely spoken, especially close to the Guatemalan border. And there is also a fair amount of Kriol (the local Creole language) and some other languages of the region.

#3 | Transport around Belize is easy

Depending on your comfort level and budget, there are plenty of options for how to get around Belize during your trip:

Renting a car. I like to have a buddy for road trips, so I didn’t opt to rent a car, although many do for their time in Belize. And road signs are all in English.

Buses. Buses are what I took most often, to get between cities and also for shorter day trips to Mayan ruins. The buses in Belize may look familiar, because they are second-hand school buses purchased from the United States! Many of them stay their original yellow color, although some bus companies paint over with other hues.

Between cities it can take a while on the bus (besides the Express), since they’ll stop at countless bus stops and intersections along the way. But especially for local buses, I found it extremely useful as a tourist since each bus has a person dedicated to taking money – and not driving – who can make sure you get off in the right spot for where you want to go. Plus, they’re cheap!

#3 Transport Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination 20170512_103149

Taxis. Certain spots, like getting from the Belize City Airport to the Bus Station, are just easier in a taxi. Usually there is a fixed fare for these journeys, and even outside of the cities, there was always a local nearby who knew the going rate for a cab ride. Ask locals about the price to expect before you go, and you’ll know you’re paying a fair price.

Ferries/Water Taxis. If you’re visiting Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize City, most people opt for one of the water taxis that run across. There are also various spots along the coast with ferries. From Danriga, I took a bus to Independence (which was leaving much sooner than the Placencia bus), and then got a ferry to Placencia Town at the tip of the peninsula.

Flights. There are a lot of short-hop flights on local carriers like Maya Air and Tropic Air, especially along the coast. It’s definitely more expensive than the bus, but will get you to your destination much faster and with stunning views along the way as the planes fly quite low. I took one flight to get to the airport on my way home, so I didn’t have to leave super-early in the morning or stress about traffic on the road to Belize City.

#3 Transport Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination 20170516_094113

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUNElCFg6xX/

Car Transfers. If the thought of inter-city travel on an old school bus without air conditioning gives you pause, don’t worry, that’s not your only option. There are several car transfer companies that offer a more comfortable, air-conditioned, direct ride to your destination. Most hotels and guesthouses can arrange this for you in advance.

#4 | It’s easy to travel on a budget

While there are some costs you can’t avoid, overall travel around Belize is quite inexpensive, even if it’s accurately known as the most expensive country in Central America. That’s only by comparison to some very cheap places to visit.

Especially with taking bus transportation and doing some exploring on your own, you can get around and eat well for not all that much. If you’re willing to forego air conditioning, you can get true budget accommodations, but even my private room in a guesthouse with air conditioning in San Ignacio was only around $50 USD/night.

Plan for the budget you have, but cost should definitely not be a deterrent to visiting!

#5 | You can pay in US dollars pretty much anywhere

If you’re American or arriving from the US, you’ll be pleased to know that you can pay in US dollars throughout Belize. This includes taxis, random small town buses, and street vendors, as well as more established hotels and businesses. I never had my US dollars refused.

Typically when you pay with US currency, you’ll get Belizean dollars (BZD) as change, although sometimes I was offered a mix of USD and BZD. Don’t worry, it’s an easy conversion because the currencies are tied together: $1 US = $2 BZD.

I brought a fair bit of cash, and between that and paying for tours with a credit card when I could, I didn’t need to go to an ATM or formally exchange money the entire trip. Although since credit cards charge a conversion fee, it would have actually been a bit cheaper to pay for everything in cash, which I didn’t realize ahead of time. If you’re comfortable carrying that much, anyway.

TIP! Be sure to check whether prices are in USD or BZD at restaurants and shops since both currencies use the dollar sign ($) and you’ll want to know the actual cost of what you’re getting.

#6 | All sorts of adventures await

#6 Xunantunich Mayan Ruins Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination DSC_0537

One of the main things that drew me to visit Belize was adventure. There are all sorts of active and outdoor activities to enjoy, and many of these are clustered in certain parts of the country, so it’s easy to have a single home base and do day trips in different directions, as I did from San Ignacio.

Adventures include:

  • exploring and climbing Mayan ruins (went to a few of these)
  • hiking
  • caving
  • swimming in waterfalls (did this twice)
  • visiting wildlife preserves
  • some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world (I saw a manatee!)

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUIq-xiArFs/

#7 | Tours are readily available

#7 Mayan Chocolate Tour Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination DSC_0157 (2)

If you’re not quite as independent on the road as I am, or want to follow my lead and break up solo travel with a few organized tours, there is availability of tours for just about everything you might want to do. There are also a few outings that for preservation reasons, you can only enter with a tour guide.

I did full-day tours to the ATM cave (tour guide required), a day trip to Tikal in Guatemala, & a visit to a Mayan chocolate farm and factory (pictured above) followed by swimming in a waterfall. When I was staying at the beach, I also did a ½ day snorkeling tour at the last minute.

The only tour I arranged in advance was to visit the chocolate farm and factory, and all my other day trips I was able to arrange the night before. Most tours have a minimum of 2 people, so as a solo traveler, I just found out which tours already had people signed up for the following day. Or you can always pay a premium for a private tour.

#8 | You can relax on one of the countless beaches

#8 Placencia Beach Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination DSC_0212

On the Caribbean coast, Hopkins and Placencia (where I stayed), are the most popular beach destinations. But a country like Belize is not limited to a single coastline because there are hundreds of cayes!

Cayes are small islands of varying sizes, many with pristine white beaches and incredible snorkeling and diving in the surrounding water. Larger cayes will have accommodations available, so you can stay overnight or in some cases have a private section of beach to enjoy.

#9 | Great food everywhere you go

#9 Street Food Why Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination 20170511_194659

There some fabulous restaurants scattered throughout Belize. These range from fancy seafood restaurants, ones serving traditional Belizean cuisine, ethnic restaurants (lots of Chinese food), and upscale French and Italian spots.

There is also a strong street food culture. Which means that you can eat well everywhere, even in transit. And the cheapest food you can get, typically from a street food vendor, is often the most delicious.

READ MORE: Foodie Bucket List – How to Eat Like a Local in Belize

 

You can get a sense of how much I enjoyed Belize because although I only recently returned from my trip, I am already strategizing about how to go back for a return visit!

I was a bit too early for the annual Lobster Festivals that take place in a few different coastal towns when lobster season begins each year on June 15th. And I didn’t make it to the most popular part of Belize – the Cayes (Caulker & Ambergris).

Next time…

Have you been to Belize? What made it an enjoyable experience for you? Any other questions about what it’s like to visit? Let me know in the ‘Comments’ below.

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9 Reasons Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

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Yayoi Kusama’s Art: Exhibitions I’ve Seen & Where to Catch Her Next

Yayoi Kusama’s Art: Exhibitions I’ve Seen & Where to Catch Her Next

How did I go from Kusama being an artist I had never heard of and just happened to stumble upon to waiting almost 3 hours to see an exhibit of hers last month?

Like all great travel experiences, walking through a Kusama exhibition makes me feel like a tiny speck in a giant universe and compels me to look out on the world with a new sense of wonder.

Usually those sensations for me are reserved for being out in nature or standing in the shadow of a great architectural marvel – like hiking through tea plantations in Sri Lanka or ascending the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. In the case of Kusama, she masterfully achieves this effect within the confines of museum walls.

And even though my almost 3-hour wait was just to get tickets, and doesn’t include the time waiting at each of the individual infinity mirror rooms, I thought it was definitely worth it for the experience!

About Kusama

I think the most surprising thing for me about Kusama is her age. She was born in the 1920s, and is pushing 90 years old today (while still creating art)!

Like many artists, she had a rough childhood. Then in her teenage years, she began having hallucinations of dots, which became a fixation throughout her career. According to Kusama, it is the dots that transport you to infinity.

As the friend I made while waiting in line at the recent Washington, DC exhibit observed, “her art feels so modern, I thought everything here was new.”

And that is another thing about Kusama, her edginess is timeless. Her art felt shockingly modern and avant garde back in the 1950s and 60s, and that same art feels equally innovative today.

Kusama: In Infinity @ the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden

Flashback to less than a year ago at the TBEX travel blogging conference in Stockholm, Sweden. I made plans to attend fairly last-minute, so I ended up on a tour that was relatively random for me during the afternoon leading up to the start of the conference: Art & Architecture.

The itinerary was already planned for us, and while I glanced briefly at the list of museums we’d be visiting, I didn’t do any research into what exactly we might be seeing when we arrived.

Our first stop was the Moderna Museet, Stockholm’s modern art museum. We saw a few exhibits there with a guide, but it was the Kusama exhibition that was the most memorable by far.

I’m not a huge art buff, and had never heard of Kusama. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t have sought out the modern art museum there on my own, but it just happened to be included on my tour.

I got a sense of how prominent an artist she is when the museum entrance was plastered with dots and what I now know to be one of her signature pumpkins covered in dots:

Stockholm Pumpkin Kusama Exhibit Moderna Museet Stockholm Sweden DSC_0603

Although I didn’t know to call it this at the time, there was also one “infinity mirror room.” This one featured spotted lanterns covered in black dots with lights inside that kept shifting color. Infinity rooms are basically enclosed boxes with every surface a mirror, so the items in the room (and your reflection!) are everywhere you look, multiplied many times:

Stockholm Infinity Mirror Room Kusama Exhibit Moderna Museet Stockholm Sweden DSC_0606Stockholm Infinity Mirror Room Kusama Exhibit Moderna Museet Stockholm Sweden DSC_0610

Maybe it’s just the math teacher in me, but I like geometry and shapes, and the uniformity of the reflections in all directions appeals to me. Especially with the contrast of spherical globes covered in circles, and then inside a square space.

The Stockholm exhibit also had a lot of art displayed in open areas, including the other Kusama work there that struck me the most.

Instead of a surface with dots painted on, this exhibit consisted of highly polished and reflective silver spheres each about the size of a basketball. I definitely was under the impression that this was a new exhibit, although I later read that it had originally been created for the Venice Biennale in 1966!

Stockholm Narcissus Garden Kusama Exhibit Moderna Museet Stockholm Sweden 20160713_155009

Kusama is known for being particular about how her art is displayed and experienced, and this display was no exception. When a single ball rolled a bit out of place while I was there, someone from the museum came over wearing white gloves to replace it in its correct spot:

Stockholm Narcissus Garden Kusama Exhibit Moderna Museet Stockholm Sweden 20160713_154941

And of course, like many of Kusama works with interesting titles, this one is aptly named – Narcissus Garden. Although I didn’t know that when I captured this shot with my reflection, many times over:

Stockholm Narcissus Garden Kusama Exhibit Moderna Museet Stockholm Sweden DSC_0620

Kusama: Infinity Mirrors @ the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, USA

After my experience in the infinity mirror room in Stockholm, I had a sense of what to expect in DC. The pleasant surprise is that for the Infinity Mirrors exhibition, it really is a comprehensive retrospective of Kusama’s 65-year career.

Kusama at her core is known for her dots, and you’ll see them throughout the exhibit. They are not only in the rooms but also painted in different configurations on canvas, decorating 3-dimensional figures, and part of mini flashing displays you peer into to get the effect of the full-size infinity room.

DC Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0295

The mini infinity mirror room that mesmerized me the most was called Love Forever, and had two square windows on different sides for two people to peer in simultaneously.

DC small Infinity Mirror Room Love Forever DC Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC DSC_0310

But of course, the focus was mostly on the infinity mirror rooms. And waiting to see them was the bulk of your time in the exhibit.

The 5 main infinity mirror rooms:

Phalli’s Field

DC Infinity Mirror Room Phalli's Field Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC DSC_0265

I liked how bright this room was with the simple color scheme of white and red. It was easy to see all the reflections generated when the room was completely closed.

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity

DC Infinity Mirror Room Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC 20170503_133736

Entering this infinity room involved a bit of ducking as there are lanterns hanging down at different heights. But they really appear to take up the whole space, so it’s a bit other-worldly to see yourself among the lights.

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins

At the Hirshhorn this was the only room where a staff member entered with you, and also where cameras were prohibited when I went, due to a previous incident (presumed to be caused by a selfie) in which one of the lit pumpkins was damaged.

This shot of me and a pumpkin painted yellow outside the museum gives an idea of what it was like in the infinity mirror room with the (smaller) lit pumpkins:

DC Pumpkin Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0254

Love Transformed into Dots

This was the infinity mirror room that was most similar to the one I saw in Stockholm, except that this room was only with pink spheres with black dots, instead of the multi-color display I had seen previously. Still a lot of fun!

DC Infinity Mirror Room Love Transformed into Dots Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC DSC_0272DC Infinity Mirror Room Love Transformed into Dots Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC DSC_0274

The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away

DC Infinity Mirror Room The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC DSC_0313

I perceived this room as two levels of colors standing inside, so it definitely felt as if you were gazing out toward a distant horizon.

Even with the fast-paced nature of the timing, it was really incredible when the staff closed the door behind you and you were completely enclosed by mirrors and light reflections. And it actually turned out to be a plus for many of the rooms to be only 1 person, as even with my new friend with me in line, I got to go in completely alone for several of the rooms.

I also loved the concept of the Obliteration Room, which was the final part of the exhibit before exiting. It was very cool and interactive, and I had actually seen friends’ pictures already before I went.

But what I didn’t realize from the photos was that it wasn’t paint splotches artistically thrown on the walls, but stickers! The room actually started off completely white, including the furniture, and then a staff member handed each person a sheet of 6 different-colored stickers as they left the exhibition:

DC Obliteration Room Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0332

By the time I got there several months in, it looked like this:

DC Obliteration Room Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0324

As you can see, it was pretty crowded, but with a little patience and smart camera angling, it wasn’t too hard to get some good shots all on your own:

It was such a fun place for a final frolic, and the best part is that after all the queuing, there is no time limit for the Obliteration Room.

Where You Can See Kusama’s Artwork Next

Even if you missed seeing the Kusama exhibitions in Stockholm and Washington, DC, lucky for you the DC exhibition is now embarking on a North American tour through late 2018. Never traveled for art before? Here’s your chance!

The Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibition, will be appearing:

June 30, 2017 – September 10, 2017
Seattle Art Museum
Seattle, WA, USA
*As of June 1st, tickets are completely sold out, but limited same-day tickets will be available on-site on a first-come, first-served basis

October 21, 2017-January 10, 2018
The Broad
Los Angeles, CA, USA
*Although ticketing details are not yet released for October, between now and September 30th there is already a Kusama “infinity room” on display at The Broad if you’re able to visit.

March 3, 2018 – May 27 2018
Art Gallery of Ontario
Toronto, Canada
*Ticketing details to be announced.

July 7, 2018 – September 30, 2018
Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, OH, USA
*Ticketing details to be announced.

November 18, 2018 – February 17, 2019
The High
Atlanta, GA, USA
*Ticketing details to be announced.

Practical Tips for Visiting

The laid back Kusama exhibit I visited in Stockholm was a bit different from the current Hirshhorn-organized exhibition Infinity Mirrors that is heading around North America over the next eighteen months. Since the exhibit has multiple infinity mirror rooms that only allow a few people in at a time, tickets will likely be extremely limited at all of the museums mentioned above.

First, I would say that while the Seattle exhibition (which starts at the end of this month) is already sold out for advance tickets, exact policies have not been announced for the other 3 cities. If you’re planning to catch Kusama in Los Angeles, Toronto, or Cleveland, definitely get on the respective museum’s mailing list or follow them on social media to be the first to learn about getting tickets.

Even if you try your best to score advance tickets, realize that you may not succeed. When Infinity Mirrors was in DC, I tried multiple times for the advance timed tickets that were released weekly, but was never successful at getting them. Which is not surprising when the Hirshhorn revealed that during one March week, nearly 60,000 people were vying for fewer than 10,000 advance passes!

And even during the week in DC, there were looooong lines to get in, so I definitely debated whether I thought I should go.

For the first several months, getting there 1 hour or so before museum opening time was sufficient to get a timed ticket for later in the day. As the exhibition closing date approached, lines got significantly longer, earlier in the morning.

I went on a Wednesday during last 2 weeks of exhibit. I arrived around 8:30am, with the museum opening at 10:00am. And I was far enough back in the line – several hundred people – that it then took another 1 hour to receive the timed tickets.

DC Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0217

I ended up with a 1:00pm ticket, which was the earliest time slot available when I got to the front of the queue. And there were plenty of people who lined up by the 10:00am opening, but were so far back in the line that they got turned away when timed tickets ran out.

So yes, go for same-day tickets, but plan ahead!

TIP! Bring a book. Between my earplugs and Kindle, I had a blissful 90 minutes of reading as I waited outside.

TIP! Prepare to wait, even if you’ve been lucky enough to get advance tickets. Even beyond the waiting to obtain a timed ticket, there is a separate queue for all of the infinity mirror rooms. One of the individual lines I waited on took 45 minutes! Overall, I spent around 2 hours at the exhibit, and about 1.5 hours of that time was waiting in line. Time-wise there is definitely a lot more waiting than reward, although it gives you more time to ponder and discuss the art.

DC Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0275

TIP! Bring a friend or be ready to make one. You’ll probably want someone else there to take pictures of you and especially to keep you entertained waiting in line. It was also helpful that I made a friend pretty quickly because then we took turns holding a spot in line while the other one explored the rest of the exhibits. Although for many the infinity mirror rooms are the main attraction, there is a fair bit of Kusama’s art besides the infinity rooms on display.

TIP! Dress the part! Some people wore solid colors like me, while others arrived decked out in polka dotted dresses or outrageous outfits. If you go, you’re probably only going to go once, so dress for the pictures you want. Also consider that you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet.

DC Obliteration Room Kusama Exhibit Hirshhorn Museum Washington DC US DSC_0342

TIP! Take a nice camera. There are a lot of flashing lights and illuminated sections, so if you have a nice camera, you’ll want to have it with you to capture everything.

TIP! Jump around between the infinity rooms if you can. Fortunately in DC you didn’t need to visit the infinity mirror rooms in order, so I skipped ahead to some shorter lines and then backtracked as the other lines eased. For whatever reason with the exhibit’s layout, one line was always long – that was the one where I waited 45 minutes.

TIP! Be ready when it’s your turn to enter the infinity room. Even if you’ve been waiting a while, as you approach the front of the line, pay attention. At least in DC, you could enter each infinity mirror room for only 20-30 seconds each, so people move through quickly. All of the Hirshhorn staff had timers to track this, and it goes by quicker than you’d think.

Half a minute is not a lot of time to reflect, stare in wonder, gaze into infinity, wonder about the universe, and also capture the perfect selfie inside. But it’s worth the experience of trying.

Have you experienced Kusama’s art before? Would you ever plan a trip around an art exhibition? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the ‘Comments.’

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Kusama Infinity Mirrors Art Exhibition - What I've Seen, Tips for Visiting & Where It's Headed Next US Canada

Disclaimer: I visited the Moderna Museet in Stockholm as a guest/participant of the TBEX Conference & Visit Stockholm. Opinions are all mine, of course – I always tell it like it is.

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