New York To-Do Listicle 2

Leaving later this morning to spend Labor Day weekend in New York City with my family. Haven’t been to NYC in almost four months, the longest it’s been since I moved back to DC last winter. Obviously couldn’t sleep until I’d made a list of things to do:

  1. Order a Black Tap milkshake. If you haven’t seen these on social media yet, you must not be on any social media. Beth just moved next to the SoHo location, which means she’s also near Dominique Ansel Bakery
  2. Visit the Statue of Liberty. I’ve been to New York at least a dozen times now, but have yet to see this iconic symbol of the American dream. We’re planning on taking a ferry and possibly climbing up to the crown. When I was in the fourth grade, I read the entire Dear America series, including the diary of Zipporah, a Russian Jewish immigrant who found hope in viewing Lady Liberty from her ship… Before her family was subjected to humiliating physical exams on Ellis Island and, later, her friend burned to death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. (The epistolary form truly can convince kids to read anything.) I’ve wanted to see the Statue ever since.
  3. See the Roof Garden Commission at the Met. Of all the items on my previous NYC to-do list that I didn’t get to accomplish, this is the most important, in my mind.
  4. Participate in Sleep No More. This immersive theater experience features scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which take place over four floors of a Manhattan warehouse transformed into a 1920’s hotel. Audience members wear masks and can “choose their own adventure,” exploring the different rooms and possibly even interacting with the characters. Every detail of the 1920’s-themed sets is immaculately designed. I’m especially looking forward to finding the room that is supposedly dressed up as a candy shop–complete with actual candy! Also, I had to stop at the library today to brush up on Macbeth, since I haven’t come across the play since high school!
  5. Visit the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. This new WTC subway station looks like an architectural wonder in photos. There’s a good chance we’ll also visit One World Observatory, since my parents really enjoy seeing cities from obscene heights.
  6. Order bubble tea at Meet U. This new bubble tea place in Chinatown has those Insta-worthy cups shaped like light bulbs, as well as knotted bendy straws. Presentation is everything.
  7. Shop. With my family, not to mention Labor Day sales, I imagine we’ll do a fair amount of shopping. Fairly certain I won’t need anything to wear this fall other than this cape, but half of the shopping in New York is for the experience. I at least want to stop in the Club Monaco on 5th, which has a Strand bookstore attached.
  8. Attend The Upright Citizens Brigade‘s ASSSSCAT 3000. I’ve seen shows by this improv troupe (featuring tons of famous comedians, including Amy Poehler) on tour twice and would love to see the full cast on their home turf. The show is free on Sunday nights (and really cheap every other night)!
  9. Find tickets for the Museum of Ice Cream. This pop-up museum dedicated to what I love most in life sold out immediately and ends next weekend. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. (Currently combing through Craigslist for reasonably priced tickets.)
  10. Win the Hamilton lottery. “I am not throwing away my shot.”

View of Manhattan skyline from Smorgasburg in Brooklyn

New York To-Do Listicle

NYC this weekend! Some of my best friends will also be visiting, so we could do absolutely nothing and still have the best time, but just in case…

  1. Order a cotton candy bubble tea float at ViVi Bubble Tea. This is at the top of my list because I’d really wanted to go last month, but the LES location was a bit inconvenient. Also wouldn’t mind going for round two of rolled ice cream.
  2. Get drinks at Please Don’t Tell. To find this hidden speakeasy, patrons enter via a vintage phone booth inside a hot dog place. Their cocktails have been voted the best in the world, but I mostly want to go because the idea of covertly stepping into a different world reminds me of so many of my favorite books. And I still haven’t been to a speakeasy, unless you count the Safe House.
  3. See the Roof Garden Commission at the Met. This summer’s exhibit is a loose replica of the house in Hitchcock’s Psycho! There’s a bar on the roof, as well.
  4. Choose a Broadway show for Sally. She’s only seen one musical before (The Lion King) and wasn’t too impressed. But she’s finally willing to give it another try, and I’m making it my personal mission to make sure she doesn’t regret it. Currently wanting to see: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The CrucibleBlackbird, Do I Hear a Waltz?and A Streetcar Named Desire (obvi).
  5. Win the Hamilton lottery. By now you’ve probably heard how much the record-breaking tickets are going for. Never mind the fact that there are apparently over 10,000 lottery entrants per show…
  6. Go to Smorgasburg (and Brooklyn in general) for the raindrop cake. It’s so wild! If the line is too absurdly long, the ramen burger would be my second choice.
  7. Do a moderate amount of shopping, mainly for Lollapalooza festival wear. Also on the hunt for an appropriate shirt for my first Pizza Club meeting next week.
  8. Stop by CW Pencil Enterprise. Initially, I felt that a store devoted to pencils sounded annoyingly hipster and pretentious. But on second thought, for avid readers and writers… Why not?
  9. For one last food goal, drop by Dominique Ansel Bakery–not for another Cronut, but for the burrata soft serve and all the other amazing pastries they have.
  10. A major EDM festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, will also be happening this weekend. Just putting that out there…


Pieces of Turkey

Last June, on our way back home from teaching in Georgia, a friend and I spent a few days in Istanbul. Unfortunately, a few days wasn’t nearly enough! Istanbul is such an incredible, vibrant city, where the people are friendly, all the food is amazing, and there is something interesting to see or experience around every single corner. Not too many civilizations are old enough to have such a rich history and culture, and not too many cities are located on two different continents. Simply walking around Istanbul’s colorful, busy, ancient streets is a thrill. I already know that I need to return to Turkey soon, in order to discover its other stunning areas and to continue my exploration of one of the largest and most unique cities on Earth.IMG_3900The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is better known as the Blue Mosque for all of the gorgeous blue tiles that cover the interior walls and ceilings. Completed in 1616, the Blue Mosque is still used today as a place of worship. Due to poor lighting, I was unable to get any decent photos inside, but I could’ve spent all day examining the more than 20,000 floral tiles. The mosque’s exterior, with its many domes, minarets, huge courtyard, and colorful gardens, is also very impressive.IMG_3787

The Grand Bazaar, which was constructed around 1455 and encloses over 3,000 shops, is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Even though it’s crowded, full of tourist traps, and impossible to walk through without being hassled by every salesperson you pass, I loved browsing around the authentic carpets, towels, and spices. The hand-painted ceramics especially caught my eye, and I only wish I’d had more room in my luggage to bring home more of these lovely bowls. They were so much less expensive than they are once they’re imported to the States!

IMG_3655Since this trip took place in June of 2013, I ended up being in Istanbul during some of the most heated moments of the protests in Taksim Square. I think I was most surprised by how little the Turks (at least those who didn’t live in the Taksim Square area) were affected by the situation. In fact, if I brought up the subject, most would roll their eyes and say that they disagreed with the protestors. Naturally, my friend and I were in no mood to get injured while on vacation, but we did want to try and observe from afar… Well, we ended up in a giant parade of people marching through the city to Taksim Square. There was a lot of cheering, chanting, and honking of horns, but it was all peaceful. However, two English-speaking students warned us that continuing without masks or hardhats was a bad idea, and half an hour later, when we were a few hundred feet from the square, the lingering tear gas in the air was already bothering our eyes and throats. That, coupled with the sight of hundreds of police officers with their weapons aimed at the crowd, let us know it was time for us to bow out. We were still glad to have been able to witness a part of history, in which people stood up for the right to express their needs.


I obviously ate more Turkish delight, baklava, and dondurma (thick, traditional ice cream) than was necessary during my stay in Istanbul. But like the small child that I apparently am, I was most intrigued by osmanli macunu, which is basically fruity, sticky sugar swirled around a stick like a gooey lollipop.
IMG_4329The current structure of the Hagia Sophia was completed in 537 (former structures date back to the 324!), and the building had switched multiple times between serving as a church and a mosque, before becoming a secularized museum in 1935. It looks strikingly bright and pink at sunset. Again, I couldn’t get any good pictures inside because of the awkward lighting, but I was completely blown away by the interior. East truly meets West, with Christian influences positioned right next to Islamic elements. I was especially fascinated by the Christian frescos and mosaics that have been uncovered from underneath Muslims’ many layers of paint.


When I saw this little boy, I figured his costume was for a traditional dance performance. Nope. He was just on his way to or from his circumcision ceremony! Probably from, since he doesn’t look too happy…IMG_3848One of the magnificent views from the top of the Galata Tower, built in 1348. Here, The Bosphorus Strait, the strip of water coming from the left side of this photo, the Golden Horn, the estuary coming from the right side of the photo, and the Sea of Marmara, the water coming from the back of the photo, all join together. The Bosphorus actually runs between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea (left of the picture) and separates Istanbul’s European side from its Asian side, the land in the back. The hills of the Princes’ Islands can be seen in the far distance.

IMG_4078Between 1465 and 1856, the Ottoman sultans lived in the massive, extravagant Topkapi Palace. Though only a small portion of the hundreds of rooms are accessible to the public, it’s clear that no detail was spared in the construction and design of the palace complex. I particularly loved ogling the museum’s collection of Ottoman exotic treasures and exquisite jewelry. And these cabinets, made of genuine tortoiseshell and mother of pearl, are to die for.


Ritual purification at a fountain in the New Mosque.IMG_4422On my last day in Istanbul, I took a morning ferry to Buyukada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on Buyukada, so natives and visitors must walk, ride bikes, or take horse-drawn carriages to get around. I can’t properly describe how charming and idyllic this gem of an island is, but it reminded me of a more relaxed Charleston or Savannah. I rented a bike and made my way toward Saint George’s Monastery (it seems I’ll never truly escape Giorgi!), passing the most picturesque historic homes (doesn’t this one remind you of those gingerbread houses in New Orleans?) on the way. The final 30 minutes to the monastery was a hike on foot up one of Buyukada’s steep hills, but the spectacular views at the top were more than worth it. I still daydream about this perfect day… It should also be noted that even though Buyukada is two square miles and doesn’t allow cars, it does have a Starbucks! But I resisted the urge and opted for Turkish ice cream instead.

Pictures of Spain



There’s no better time than during these freezing, dreary days to look back on more picturesque travels. Last winter, after visiting Portugal, my mom and I also explored parts of Spain. Neither of us had been to Madrid, but I’d spent a few days in Barcelona, while studying abroad, and was excited to share with my mom everything I already loved about the colorful city.


In Barcelona, I was probably most eager to take my mom to La Boqueria, a gigantic, vibrant market that sells virtually anything you could ever want to eat. My mom and I are huge fans of fruit, and every fruit that currently exists on Earth could probably be found here. The same could be said about its incredible seafood section, which my mom was also excited about, though I was just happy to discover the only shellfish I can tolerate–jackknife clams. We definitely spent hours here, wandering around the various stalls, feasting on fresh food, and wanting to stay forever.IMG_6032

View of the the city, the Mediterranean, and what looks like a Dr. Seuss house, from the terrace of Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell.

If you’ve ever visited Barcelona, you’ve undoubtedly walked down La Rambla, the long, wide street filled with vendors, performers, and restaurant tables. The last time I’d traversed La Rambla, it was summertime, and the street was jam-packed with locals and tourists alike. But in January, while still busy, it was much less crowded and felt more inviting, truly exemplifying the effect of tourism. I’ll always associate this charming street with these tiny bouquets of bright flowers, which were sold at tons of stands and remind me of candy, specifically konpeito. Only one euro!


It’s strange to picture Gaudí’s Sagrada Família as finished. The scaffolding and machinery surrounding it are as iconic as the church itself. But after a century and a half, its construction is finally set to end in the next decade or so. And I’ll consider myself privileged to have witnessed its progress at multiple points in its history. The biggest change I noticed since my previous visit was that the interior, especially around the altar, looked completely finished, whereas before, some areas required finishing touches and were still covered. Sagrada Família is clearly enormous, but Gaudí specifically used brilliant colors and influences from nature to create a place of worship that was comfortable and welcoming, rather than cold and overwhelming.IMG_6393

While walking to the beach, I peeked around the numerous residential corners, searching for the quintessential Barcelonian street… This was it.IMG_6403

It was so strange to see the Barceloneta Beach practically deserted in the winter, compared to how crowded it had been during my previous visit in the summer. I didn’t see anyone shouting “Fanta, cola, cerveza, beer, agua!” or selling “massages” this time around, but the Mediterranean Sea, even on this overcast morning, was still as spectacular as ever.


First things first in Madrid: breakfast in the Plaza Mayor. Craving these churros and the thickest, richest hot chocolate right about now! This restaurant, El Soportal, exhibited on its walls photos of the owner standing with famous customers, including Hillary Clinton, which made me smile.


We visited a couple house museums in Madrid, but if I could live in any of them, I’d choose the Impressionist artist Joaquín Sorolla’s. It was spacious, bright, and elaborate without being tacky, like a combination of a workshop and a beach house in the city. I doubt his paintings covered the walls while he was still alive, but I wouldn’t have minded, they were so stunning.IMG_6853

Few places could be more extravagant than the Palacio Real. Even a rainy morning couldn’t dampen this phenomenal view of the Royal Palace from the top of the Almudena Cathedral across from it.
IMG_7095Despite shortened hours, more renovations, and colder weather, there’s something to be said about traveling in the off-season. While walking with my mom around the Parque del Buen Retiro, which was all but empty, it honestly felt like we were just a couple of locals, taking a stroll before dinner in this casually beautiful park. When we randomly came across the back of the Palacio de Cristal, it pretty much confirmed that Europe is simply a magical place.