Dancing in the Desert: Coachella

That rare, beautiful occasion when the stars align and your job sends you to a music festival you’ve been dying to go to. Coachella is exactly how you’d picture it. People were there just as much for the fashion as they were for the music. Everywhere you turned, people were taking pictures of themselves against the gorgeous palm tree/ferris wheel backdrop. One thing that I didn’t really expect (and didn’t particularly love) was that the festival is basically LA transplanted into the desert for three nights, with VIP, list-only parties in Palm Springs, and the gritty music lovers camping at the actual festival in Indio, California hating on the VIPs but secretly wishing they were part of that crowd.

I so wanted to believe I was a gritty music lover, but let’s be real: I’m not in college anymore, I was staying in Palm Springs and I hadn’t heard of 75% of the bands playing (in my defense, I didn’t pretend to know who they were a la this hilarious Jimmy Kimmel clip).  I was excited about a few bands – Passion Pit, Of Monsters and Men, Local Natives, Vintage Trouble, Lord Huron, Tegan and Sara, Phoenix, The Lumineers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more. I only got to see the first few because work called and I unexpectedly had to leave the festival early to go on yet another unexpected but pretty cool adventure (post about that later, but you know what I’m talking about if you follow me on Instagram). Regardless, I had a great 1.5 days at Coachella and enjoyed the hell out of it while I was there.

I’ll start with my money shot:20130421-144756.jpg

We watched a ton of bands, this photo was taken during Local Natives. I love them and if you haven’t heard of them by now, you will soon.20130421-144718.jpg

When you enter the VIP area, it’s like a garden oasis in the desert amidst the chaos of the festival. Once inside, my co-worker and I spent an inappropriate amount of time on this double swing. Classy.

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The art of Coachella:20130421-145137.jpg

At night, we danced under the stars:20130421-144648.jpg

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I was sad to leave, but the drive was pretty beautiful.20130421-145043.jpg

And I wore my festival arm gear for another day after I left. A minimum of five bracelets per arm is pretty much a Coachella requirement.20130421-145118.jpg

The fact that I had to leave this beautiful festival early gave me major FOMO, so upon my return I convinced my friends to come with me next year and plans are already in the works. Stay tuned for more updates from this little Cali trip!

Mountain Mama

Last weekend, we took a four hour drive to what might as well have been another continent – no, another planet. The farm we visited in West Virginia, where Matt’s college friends live, is about as opposite as it gets from the life we know. Jeff and Sarah, who built their house from scratch this year, live on 11 acres of sprawling land, only have 2 neighbors in plain sight, and the only stores within a half hour drive is an old fashioned general store and a tractor supply store that sells baby chicks and guns. Yup. (Look, baby chicks!)

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Like I said, we were a far way from downtown NYC. The thing is, I think farms are awesome. I think the desert is awesome too (and I’m going to one of those next month! Details to come.) I’m basically fascinated by anything that’s totally different than everything I know. Why was it so different? Let me break it down in a few photos:

In NYC, we’re greeted by crackheads when we come home. When we drove up to the farm, we were greeted by quacking ducks.

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In NYC, we get delivery. In West Virginia, our breakfast was freshly laid – daily.

photo(1)At home, we read the news on our ipad. In West Virginia, we shoot guns. My only targets were beer cans, I swear. And yes, I hit quite a few (in case there were any skeptics!)

image(5)And here I am with a cross bow. image(7)

In NYC, we drink whatever wine the bartender serves. In West Virginia, we drink homemade hard apple cider from this scientific looking apparatus.

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In NYC, we ride the subway. In West Virginia, we drive tractors while holding chickens.

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Over the next year, Jeff and Sarah are planning to buy some cows and pigs, and to plant an orchard of peach trees right next to the house. Farmers, they’re just like us, amiright?

Fall Adventures

Like many of you, I can’t believe it’s almost 2013! Fall certainly went by in a flash and now its technically already winter. Things have been pretty busy around here, I just returned from an amazing trip visiting family in New Hampshire/Boston, we found a new apartment and are moving in two weeks, right before taking a trip to New Orleans (poor planning on that one huh?), and all the usual jazz. But amidst the chaos, I wanted to take some time to write a very belated post about a fall excursion we took last month.

With no major trips planned this fall, I wanted to do something seasonal and outdoorsy. Matt mentioned there was a park by his parents’ house, which left me a bit skeptical (the parks near my parents’ house on Long Island are nice, but not exactly fall-excursion worthy, more like company picnic worthy). But my skepticism was pushed aside when we arrived at the Croton Dam, only 40 minutes from NYC and so very beautiful.

Apparently this is where New York City gets its drinking water. There’s something about the waterfalls that makes a whole filtration system- I don’t quite understand how it works but my dear friend Joya who works for the New York City department of water would be happy to explain it to you in great detail. From my own perspective, this is a great place to visit if you’re itching to get out of the city for a day, want to do some light hiking but don’t want to travel too far.

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Barns and Castles in Connecticut

In the years I’ve known Rebecca, she’s never really done anything traditional. Starting her own nonprofit after grad school, moving around the country multiple times a year, dropping everything for a last minute trip to Kenya, the list goes on. That’s why it came as no surprise when we attended her very unique wedding in a beautiful barn one August evening up in Litchfield, Connecticut. Aside from the picturesque setting, she had small touches throughout the ceremony and reception that incorporated Nest – a green belt across her white dress, hand-painted napkins and handmade stationary as favors, all designed by Nest artisans in India.

After the ceremony, we spent the evening eating freshly made pizza (the brick oven was driven in on a truck!) with ingredients from local farms, catching up with old friends and dancing barefoot on the grass to a bluegrass trio.

The next day we went to a breakfast at the home where Rebecca and her family were staying – and we were absolutely blown away by this place. Called the “Litchfield Castle,” upon entering the grounds you’re transported to a different country and a different time period. It was hard to believe we were in America, in 2012, only two hours away from NYC. Just take a look at the photos.

 

See what I mean? To top it all off, Rebecca and her new husband took a vacation in one of my favorite places – Portugal! Now the happily married couple is back home and back in action as they try to make the world a better place. Congratulations to them both!

Does Traveling as a Couple Make or Break Your Relationship?

When I was 21, someone who I really looked up to told me that traveling with someone is the best way to test a relationship and see if it works.  Steph at Twenty-Something Travel wrote about this recently, right before I left for Argentina, so obviously it got me thinking, and maybe even had me a bit worried that the trip would be a make or break for my relationship.

As we began our trip, I realized it was all just silly buildup and unnecessary worry. I was traveling with someone I knew extremely well, and there weren’t any surprises for either of us in terms of how we reacted to certain situations. Plus I think we passed a few tests that made me realize that there’s a good chance I may have found myself a permanent travel buddy:

Test #1: Determine what you want out of your travels:

Matt and I love the beach, but neither of us want our main vacation for the year to be a relaxing trip to the Caribbean. We both want to see as much culture as possible, spend our time meeting people and exploring interesting places. We want to eat delicious food. We want to experience the entire world and do everything there is to do.  The night we went to Bomba de Tiempo, my back was killing me, we were tired from being up early to go to Uruguay that morning, and we had reached the point of exhaustion. I kept propping my back up against a concrete column to give it support as I listened to the music and watched the show. Matt asked if we needed to go back to the hotel, but despite my backache, I REALLY didn’t want to leave and I could tell he didn’t either. We both wanted to wait it out despite our physical exhaustion, and we’re so glad we did because that was one of the most fun experiences we had on the entire trip.

Test #2: Know and accept your partner’s limits:

The one thing we didn’t see eye to eye on was determining what was “safe.”  I am used to traveling with other girls, and when girls walk down a foreign city street that’s abandoned, we are automatically on super alert because we were raised to watch out for our safety – maybe even a bit too much. Not that boys aren’t raised to be safe, but it’s on a completely different level. Matt is used to traveling with boys, who just want to wander around, explore and purposely get lost.  The two times I felt a bit unsafe, he did a good job of easing my nerves – when we got lost in Mendoza’s San Martin park after being warned not to stray too far from the lake, he pointed out that there were other people around – and as he did so, a group of young schoolchildren walked by, and we both laughed.  Another time, late at night on a street in Buenos Aires with no other people aside from the two of us, I thought back to an email I had received from a friend who said that many travelers are susceptible to pickpocketing and mugging. Naturally, my nerves kicked in as we walked down this abandoned street. Again, Matt offered to go back to the hotel, but I didn’t want to, I just wanted to find other signs of normal people in the vicinity. As if on cue, an elderly man walking a tiny white poodle came strolling around the corner. Again, laughter ensued and nerves were calmed.

Matt also knows I’m not super outdoorsy, and though he might want to do a fun hike up the mountains or an outdoor rafting adventure trip, he knew I’d be miserable and didn’t push me to go with him. I scheduled some time in the hotel spa, which had no interest to Matt at all. (Although after a few glasses of wine that afternoon I was able to convince him to go into the outdoor pool with me.)

Test #3: Compromise.

I’m so Type A it’s ridiculous. I could plan out every minute of every trip and be thrilled to do it because it means we’ll be able to see everything that was recommended and everything we “need” to see.  (Ask any of my friends about our trip to Italy in 2009. I had things down to the minute, including bathroom breaks – no exaggeration) Matt just wants to go and explore and decide on the fly where to go and what we should do. And I’ve learned to appreciate that, as I think he’s learned that it isn’t always a bad idea to plan a few things in advance. We knew about Casa Mun, Bomba de Tiempo, and the day trip to Uruguay because of pre-vacation research and making reservations well in advance (I actually received several emails from these places telling me I was trying to make reservations way too early and to check back when our trip was less than a month away. Yes I realize how completely insane I am.) But I also left a few days open, and we were able to walk around and explore neighborhoods in Buenos Aires that I’m sure many tourists overlook. To be honest, I’m not even sure of the names of half these neighborhoods or what streets we walked around, but it was nice to have this free time to wander, to be flexible, and to stop into random restaurants we saw along the way that certainly aren’t in the Lonely Planet books.

I think the biggest test of all though, was how we felt after the trip. And we both came back with a big appreciation for each other, we weren’t annoyed and we weren’t sick of each other. In fact, over a few glasses of red wine and a huge Argentinian steak, we decided to move in together.

Did the trip define us as a couple and make me see anything differently? Not at all. Maybe it made us a bit closer because we have this new shared experience, but in terms of “testing the relationship,” I’m going to say no. I have a few people I know I can travel with – Randi, Joya, and now I can very happily add Matt to the list.

Do you think traveling as a couple will make or break you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Drink It In: Argentina’s Wine Country

Argentina was amazing, but the absolute highlight of the trip was wine country. We had four days there, and signed up for two full-day wine tours, one of the Lujan de Cuyo region and one of the Uco Valley region. Both were beautiful, especially since we visited during their fall, which meant the harvest was over but the vineyards had turned into glorious fall colors. We also lucked out because the week before we arrived there had been a rare snowfall in the Andes which stand tall above the wineries. The snowcapped mountains atop the vast fields of reds, oranges and violets made for a very rare and picturesque landscape for us to enjoy all the wine.

Another key factor in making this portion of the trip so incredible was the company we used to book the wine tours. Ampora Wine Tours does a phenomenal job of hand picking wineries in each region that are very different from each other, from the massive ones who export all over the world to the smaller, family owned wineries. When you’re visiting 4-5 wineries a day, they tend to all blend together (no pun intended) – but with Ampora, we can recall each winery vividly and have really great memories that stand out from each one. To give you a taste (again, no pun) of our favorite wineries, I’ve compiled a list below. These are the must-visits if you’re heading to Mendoza:

Pulenta Estate, Lujan de Cuyo

This winery, owned by two dudes who love fast cars, had one of the best views in the Lujan de Cuyo region. The woman who gave us the tour was our favorite on-site guide by far, and we had an excellent wine and cheese pairing here. More importantly, Pulenta Estate had my absolute favorite wine. They don’t sell it in the US so I bought a bottle on site and somehow got it back to the states in one piece. The wine, a cabernet malbec blend, has a ton of different aromas and flavors, especially as you smell the wine and enjoy the aftertaste. I couldn’t quite determine one flavor that stood out most, so our guide pointed it out – green peppers. In a wine! Sounds weird, but it’s actually amazing, and like no other wine I’ve ever tasted. That bottle will be saved for a very special occasion.

Ruca Malen, Lujan de Cuyo

I can sum up what I loved about this place in two words: food and scenery. And when I told the folks at Ruca Malen I was lactose intolerant they created a very special menu just for me. Five decadent courses served outdoors in front of red and orange fields, snowcapped mountains in the background, with glass after glass of delicious wine made from the fields in front of us. This, my friends, is what vacation should be.

Gimenez Rilii, Uco Valley

This was a small, family owned winery. Aside from having the best empanadas in the world, we felt right at home here. We tasted the wine right from the barrel, and really got a feel for the entire winemaking process when there aren’t any fancy distillers to electronically control the maceration and fermentation stages. Gimenez Rilii’s wine is made almost by hand. There was also a really cute dog hanging out here.

O’Fournier, Uco Valley 

If there’s one thing I learned at O’Fournier, it’s that money actually can buy happiness! I’m kidding. Kind of. No really, I’m kidding. You already know that this is one of my top five places in the whole world, so there’s not much more I can say about it except, the olive oil bread, the views, the sweet but respect-commanding man who owns the winery, the wine itself, the views again, and the steak. And the olive oil bread.

Another key thing about Ampora is their selection of tour guides and commitment to keeping the groups small. We were told the most they’ll ever bring on a tour is 5-6 people, but since we were there outside of peak summer season, Matt and I actually had an entire private tour. The guides were amazing, and had such an incredible knowledge of the wine region, had grown up in the surrounding areas, and it became apparent that they had quite literally dedicated their lives to learning about and teaching others about great wine.

I had a really hard time coming home after this part of the trip.

 

 

Yes, I took this last photo myself. Color popping effects courtesy of instagram.

A Horse Named Loco

On day three in Argentinian wine country, we wanted a bit of a break from drinking in between our two full day wine tours. We walked past a sign in town that showed a picture of people horseback riding in the mountains and it was decided. We asked our hotel to set something up, and they graciously took care of everything. We were driven up through the mountains, through completely desolate land for what seemed like hours, until we came across a tiny little village and our driver let us out at a little log cabin with a horse barn next door. It was like out of a freaking fairytale.

We were told by Pablo, our guide, who spoke very little English, which horses to step up onto, and he demonstrated how to give them commands using the reigns. I had rode horses before, when I was very young, but this was Matt’s first time. Lucky for him, he got the normal horse who understood how to listen to commands. I nicknamed my horse “Loco,” since no matter how much I tried to control her, she would just gallop away down the path when she wanted, stopping to eat some leaves whenever she felt the need. Matt said one of the most hilarious moments was hearing my horse pick up speed galloping away while I screamed, “stopp!! stop it!!” Despite Loco’s wildness, she was a pretty good horse and could tell when I would start to get nervous and she did slow down just a bit when I pulled back on the reigns.

Aside from Loco’s little diversions, it was a lovely ride through the mountains. Pablo kept going off far ahead of us, and was usually out of sight so it sort of felt like Matt and I were alone with our horses, trotting through fields and mountains and looking out at panoramic views of the Andes.

We rode for two hours, and when we got back to the little log cabin, Pablo ushered us inside where there was a table and two chairs set up in front of a fireplace, with fresh steak cooking over the fire. The table was set with two place settings, a beautiful tomato salad and a bottle of red wine. He took the steak off the fire and served it to us, then excused himself and closed the door to the log cabin so Matt and I could enjoy a private lunch by the fire. We giggled a lot because the situation, as romantic as it was, was sort of ridiculous – we felt like we had the Andes all to ourselves all morning and now we were having a private little lunch in an adorable cabin together. Upon telling this story to friends when we got back, they said it sounded like an episode of The Bachelor, a show I’m embarrassed to admit I’m familiar with.

We enjoyed our bottle of wine, finished lunch and eventually said goodbye to the little mountain town we had spent the day in. When we got back to Mendoza, it was still early, around 4 pm, so we decided to check out the wine tasting bar across the street from the hotel. We were served our flight of Malbecs, and an hour later our buzz had taken us to the outdoor pool of the hotel and we were swimming even though it was 60 degrees outside. So much for our sober day in wine country.