30 Before 30 – Be in a happy and healthy relationship for a year

So I’m a little late blogging about this one, but I can officially check it off. On December 18th, I picked Gareth up at Logan Airport, and we spent the night celebrating our year anniversary. It was so incredibly special to get to spend that day with him, especially because there are so many other important dates we miss.

For our anniversary, we went to Maggiano’s, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston, and spent the night in the Omni Parker House, where JFK is said to have proposed to Jackie. I don’t know if I’ve made this clear yet, but I love JFK!

At the Omni Parker House

At the Omni Parker House

JFK and Jackie

Jack and Jackie

Speaking of guys I love, let’s talk about my boyfriend. I hate being mushy, but this post seems to call for it, so excuse me this one time. When things started with him, they should have felt terrifying and complicated and impossible. He lived on the other side of the world. There was an 8 hour time difference between us. We had also been friends for quite a while and that’s something you have to decide is worth risking. And yet with him, it felt so easy. So simple. I didn’t stress out or overanalyze or see all the reasons it couldn’t work. I never doubted how he felt or that we would work well together, even considering the insane distance between us. It sounds crazy, but it felt like it would have been so much harder for it to not have happened. I’ve never felt so on the same page with someone, never not had someone care more or less than I did. I’ve never been with someone where it felt impossible to not say “I love you” way too soon. And I never felt so incredibly comfortable around someone before.

I feel part of a team and so lucky to have found him. But not just because of how he makes me feel, but because of who he is. He’s accomplished so much in his professional life, I’m overwhelmingly proud of the business and community he has created. He’s the first to help anyone who needs it, and really believes that you’re supposed to leave the world better off than you found it. He is so moral, so caring, and also just really fun to be around. He’s my favorite person to hang out with, and pretty much I can’t wait to celebrate a million more anniversaries with him.

On the ferry from MV

On the ferry from MV

Christmas!

Christmas!

Beating him at darts, FINALLY.

Beating him at darts, FINALLY.

Christmas

Christmas

Me, Gareth, and Jenny

Me, Gareth, and Jenny

Okay, I’m done being mushy, but I’m very glad I can give #19 a big check mark, and I’m so lucky to be able to have done it with him.

30 Before 30 – Go to Morocco/Visit Africa – Tangier

Next up, Tangier! Tangier was so much nicer, thank god. We went straight to our hostel, dropped our bags off, and felt the weight literally fall from our shoulders. Tangier is also on the coast, so while it was still about 115 degrees every day, it felt so much more bearable (meaning we could actually step outside).

Our hostel was really cool–I’m confused about my pictures because I feel like I took way more, but I can’t find them! But from what little you can see, not a bad place with not a bad view.

We went to Hotel Continental, which is steeped in artistic history, and was such a cool sight. The whole trip was strange though–we were always the only people wherever we went. Except at the beach! But Hotel Continental is such a tourist destination, it was shocking to find it completely empty. Other than our server we didn’t see one other person in the entire place. Though now it makes sense because I talked to some locals and literally EVERYONE had bailed because of the heat wave. The city was EMPTY.

There was also a cool gift shop run by this guy who knew all the area codes in the major American cities. I got a really cool print, but lost it on the flight home 🙁 I’m trying to contact them to see if I can get a replacement.

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Also, we got a bit lost in the medina (it’s SO confusing), and again a bunch of locals offered to help. Katie, annoyed at being lost and constantly harassed and followed, asked directly how much they wanted to be paid to take us to the hotel. This directness I think caught them off guard, and everyone quickly assured us it was a free offer. We did this the rest of the time and it seemed to work really well.

Below you can see an overhead view of the medina, and what it looks like walking inside–it really is like a maze of alleyways. The bottom two are on the path back to our hostel, which was in the middle of everything.

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Photo credit to Matt Gross for The New York Times

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After a cold drink of water a few rounds of golf, we decided it was still too hot, and we’d head for the beach. This was my first time swimming in an Arabic nation, and it was such a strange experience. I wore a one piece and shorts, and was still completely out of place and honestly, the people there were not happy with me. Then I noticed–women were swimming fully clothed. No special swimwear, nothing. Just jumping in with pants and shirts and everything. (This was when we realized our one piece/shorts combo was a no go, and gave up on the beach.) Also, there was a camel! I’m sure this is for some sad, touristy reason, but it was cool to see. And it was the first time I’ve been in the Med!

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We had a delicious dinner of couscous and tajine, loaded up on local chocolate (try the chocolate of every country should be on my 30 before 30), and went back to the hostel and watched a few episodes of Community while showering in cold water every 15 minutes.

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After a fitful night of sleep (we were on the roof, which was gorgeous, but the only way to have any air flow was to leave the door open… to the roof deck where our fellow travelers were drinking, smoking, and playing guitar until the wee hours of the night), we started seriously considering our next move. We were supposed to head into Fez for a day, which was averaging about 130 degrees, and then Casablanca (about the same as Tangier), and then back to fly out of Marrakech–all in two days. We went through a lot of options–including, honestly, taking a ferry to Spain and getting ourselves a nice, highly air conditioned, room. Eventually we decided to go to Fez as planned, but fly back to London from there a day early. This meant we only missed Casablanca, because as originally planned we got back to Marrakech just in time to catch our flight.

Again, here, we kind of failed. Fez was shockingly hot. I wouldn’t say we had really adjusted at all, but it still blew my mind it could be that hot. It was hard to breathe. No one was outside. One local laughed at us for even being there, saying the people of Fez had left for better weather. We literally couldn’t walk more than a block or MAYBE two without having to stop… you might notice these are all excuses leading to the fact that we found the nearest hotel (pretty far outside the city), got lunch, played golf, I tried a beer, and then went straight to the airport. HOURS and HOURS early, we couldn’t even check in. It was just. so. hot.

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These are the two best pictures I got, and I’m not going to lie to you, they were taken from the cab on the way to the airport.

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We arrived back in London and it was freezing, and I promised myself to never complain about the cold British summers again. I am sad about this trip because I really do think we would have loved Morocco in any other circumstance. It almost feels like cheating to say I’ve been, but then I think about how burned (literally) into my mind it is, and just because I didn’t get to do all the tourist stuff, I definitely experienced Morocco.

30 Before 30 – Go to Morocco/Visit Africa – Marrakech

Well this one was just plain cheating. Two for the price of one, really. My reasoning behind it was I had specific goals to go to multiple African countries (all on the list), but had a larger goal to just set foot on the continent. And set foot I did. Though, and it KILLS me to say it but, this was probably the worst trip I’ve ever taken. I’ve been slow writing about it because I’d never had a bad travel experience before, and I had been looking forward to Morocco for YEARS. It’s sad because I think if we had gone at a different time (not late July/early August), or been AT ALL prepared, it would have been a very different trip.

Katie and I flew back from Iceland on a Thursday and left for Marrakech on Monday morning at around 6:00am. Sometime during the weekend we checked the weather in Morocco and discovered they were in the middle of a heat wave, and that the days were averaging around 120 degrees. Maybe to some of you, that’s nothing, but I die in 80 degree heat. Literally just give up on life and stop functioning. We decided to look at it as an ~experience~ but should have known neither of us were up to it when it looked like our tickets had been messed up and we were both a bit relieved. But alas, Ryan Air come through for once in its business lifetime, and we were on the plane to Marrakech!

Honestly, I was super excited. Like I said, I’d been wanting to go for years, and we were on our way! The plane ride wasn’t great–Katie and I were separated and the WEIRD guy next to me asked way too many inappropriate questions (including if I was carrying a lot of money, WHAT?!), even AFTER I put my earbuds in. If there’s one rule you don’t break, that’s the rule you don’t break (Alias reference, anyone?).

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We landed, got through the border in about an hour, and stepped out into it. The heat. I’m going to be very dramatic here, and compare this heat to childbirth–it’s so painful, so unique, once you’re not right in the middle of it, you can’t really comprehend how bad it is. Even now, I can feel myself forgetting, and that is a small mercy. We didn’t have a hostel that night because we were taking an overnight train to Tangier, which meant carrying all our stuff on our backs all day (bad plan). We went to the train station to ensure we got beds with AC, and headed out into the medina. We had a walking map we had wanted to stick to that took us through major attractions and landmarks, but that was miles long and we quickly realized we would die of heat stroke before making it even halfway. It’s strange because the Souk was supposed to be busy and hectic, but the markets and shops were mostly closed–even the locals had all given up in the heat.

empty Souk

empty Souk

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There was one snake charmer in the middle of an otherwise fairly empty square, who was performing an (honestly pretty lame) routine with the snakes. When they came around I gave them a bit of money because I am terrible at that stuff, and they immediately wrapped two snakes around my shoulders. It was not my favorite thing in the world, and then they started insisting I give them more money! No thank you, and please remove your snakes. Katie and I wandered away, and instantly got lost in the maze of the medina. The problem was anytime we stopped to try to get our bearings, about 4-5 men would surround us insisting they would help–but expecting money. At this point we were dripping sweat, desperate for some water, and really just wanted to be left alone. Eventually we pretended we knew where we were going and set off–only to be followed the entire time by one of the men. We finally got to the tannery (any landmark we knew), but honestly, we were too hot, sick, and lost (and still being followed!), so we just got out of there.

By that point, I’m sad to say, we pretty much gave up on Marrakech. We had three hours before our train was set to leave, it was somehow getting hotter (or at least felt that way), so we found an air conditioned cafe with free wifi close to the train station, Azyr, and settled in. Played a lot of Golf (the card game Katie and I have been playing since we went to Guatemala in 2011), drank some cold smoothies, and waited for the train.

When we got to the train station, however, the train was delayed an hour, and the only air conditioned place was the McDonald’s. And yes, we then camped out in the McDonald’s. I am not ashamed (that’s a lie, I really am).

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Eventually, about an hour and a half late, our train arrived. The silver lining was we got to see the most beautiful sunset I’ve even seen–someone told me no two sunsets are the same in Africa, but if I could only see one sunset for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

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I’m going to break the posts up into two, one for Marrakech and one for Tangier. I know this got long but I’m going to include the train ride here, cause that wasn’t ideal either, and then Tangier can just be the positive stuff!

The train ride started fine, great even. The AC, while weak, existed, which was all we really needed from it at that point. Our cabin had two bunkbeds, me and Katie on the bottom bunks, and a woman who spoke French as well as Arabic, so we could minimally communicate, on top of Katie’s bunk. We made our beds, read a bit, and fell into a deeper sleep than I had expected…

Until 1:30 am! When a much older woman burst in, and started screaming. It was all in Arabic, so I have no idea what she was saying, but she was not happy. A guy who worked for the train came in and in the TINY space between the two bunks, they yelled at each other for about five minutes. Then they left–no explanation, nothing. I was kind of freaked out but let it go and went back to sleep. I’d guess about 20 minutes later, not only were they back, but about four more (train) men had joined, and they were all yelling–loudly, enthusiastically, angrily. Then I heard the woman say Americans about four times, and I had a sinking feeling they were talking about us. I have no idea how she knew we were American. But I quickly realized we were one of the topics of the disagreement. At this point the woman above Katie sat up and started yelling as well, though it became clear quickly that she was defending us. No one was explaining to us what was going on or what we had done–until finally the third woman asked me if I minded moving to the top bunk. Apparently the older woman had bought the top bed but was mad about it, and wanted one of us to move! At this point I was so desperate for it to be over, and still a little confused, so I unmade my bed, moved to the top bunk (WHERE THE AIR CONDITIONING DID NOT REACH), and fell back into a fitful sleep. To be honest, after I found out it was just a difficult older lady (to be clear not so old she couldn’t use a top bunk), it was all fine. There was about a 20 minute period where I was so tired, so disoriented, and so afraid–but I wouldn’t have traded it for a night in a hostel, because none of the hostels we could afford were air conditioned, and the few hours I had on the bottom bunk were worth it. Plus in the morning the mean old lady gave me snacks from UAE, which was great cause I was starving.

Next up, Tangier!

30 Before 30 – Visit Iceland

ICELAND WAS AMAZING. Should I say it again? Iceland was amazing. Really, honestly, truly one of the best places I have ever been.

I met my best friend/roommate Katie there, and after a security snafu on the tarmac that resulted in the IMG_2308plane being delayed over three(!) hours, I landed in Keflavik at 2:00am (and it was completely light out—so cool/disorienting!). Katie wasn’t due to arrive the next morning until around 7:00am, so I took a shuttle the hour ride into Reykjavik and passed out.

The next morning, after a JOYOUS reunion with Katie (we hadn’t seen each other since I moved to London a few months before), we struck out into the city. We were staying pretty central in Reykjavik, so everything was well within walking distance which is probably the number one thing I look at when choosing a hostel. This one also happened to be a converted cookie factory, which is also a huge plus.

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The first day in the city was enough to feel like we had a pretty good grasp of the layout—it was a lot like Guatemala, small enough to feel instantly at home and familiar. I will say Iceland is INSANELY expensive. Like, $20 for bacon and eggs, minimum. So while our hostel and rental car were cheap, the actual day to day costs really balanced it out.

The next day we set off bright and early, and figured out how to take a bus to the tiny airport, where we had a rental car waiting.  Isn’t it fun trying other cities’ public transport? I’ve found almost everywhere I’ve been people have been really kind and eager to help (getting off at the wrong bus/train/subway stop is a personal skill of mine).

Then we drove the Golden Circle. This was the best day of our trip by far. Mostly because we planned terribly and packed all our big activities into one 24 hour stretch. But somehow, everything lined up perfectly. The drive was super fun, we listened to so much T-Swift, saw the most gorgeous countryside, and I look back at it and remember feeling so happy, so alive, and so connected to the world.

The first place we went was Kerid, a volcanic crater in southern Iceland. It was, predictably, gorgeous, and the colors were SO vivid.

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#nofilter (but actually)

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Then we went to Geysir, which we were lucky enough to see go off about four times, and waterfall Gullfoss, which was huge and beautiful. I know I keep saying everything was gorgeous and beautiful, but LOOK.
IMG_2467IMG_2457Then we headed to Pingvellir national park, where we had signed up to go snorkeling in FREEZING water in between the two tectonic plates of North America and Europe. I’d never been snorkeling or scuba diving or any of that before. Honestly large bodies of water kind of freak me out (pretty unavoidable since I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and have seen Jaws). But this was SO COOL. The water was runoff from the waterfall we had seen earlier, and it took 40 years to filter through the surrounding rock to make it into where we were. The result was completely clear, filtered water, that revealed incredibly vibrant colors below.

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Katie and I swam relatively fast, finishing before anyone else in our group, because we had to start the two hour journey to the Blue Lagoon! The Blue Lagoon is a natural geothermal hot spring, that has been turned into a spa. It’s definitely touristy—it has a bar in the middle of the water(!), and is fairly expensive even for their cheapest package. However we decided it was something we couldn’t miss, and I’m SO glad we went. It was so relaxing, so WARM after our freezing snorkeling adventures, and was something I’d have really regretted not doing.

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The next morning we slept in, and explored the city further, and we went to a delicious fish restaurant for dinner—Saegreifinn. We had their (amazing) lobster bisque, some swordfish skewers, and tried whale steak. The whale steak looked like regular steak but tasted incredibly fishy, I really didn’t like it, and couldn’t get over the fact that I was eating whale. The place itself was cool and relaxed; it was really crowded, but it only took a few minutes to find a spot in the family style seating. However we were sat next to two men from Texas who were educating the young Australian girls at our table about the truth about 9/11 and Obama’s Kenyan citizenship. They then went on to say it was nice to talk to Australian women because American women were always so irrational and defensive. (I was more than happy to let these men escape the burden of a conversation with an American woman.)

We spent the day eating the Worlds Best hotdogs and playing our epic, 4 year long game of Golf. Then we capped off our trip to a bar that has some (silly) personal significance. It was such a casual evening, and so light out, that even though we had about four drinks over many ours, we were shocked to discovered that we were 1. kind of drunk and 2. it was nearly midnight and our ride to the airport was coming in just over three hours. I honestly don’t know how people handle 24 hours of sunlight–it was so disorienting!

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Bottom line, Iceland was FANTASTIC and I highly recommend everyone try to make the trip. Wow! air has tons of affordable options, if you book far enough out/at the right time of year. I’m already desperate to go back, except maybe next time in the winter to see the Northern Lights!

30 Before 30 – Go to Turkey

I went to Turkey! And (not so) shockingly, it was amazing. We stayed in Istanbul, a beautiful, friendly city, that wasn’t what I expected, really. Not that I knew what to expect, but it felt much more European than I had imagined. It was fairly reserved–even in the bazaars (spice Bazaar was incredible), the people working the shops weren’t very aggressive, and when they were it was with more of a wry humor. I felt much more at home there than I thought I would–you think of Istanbul as this far off, distant land. And while it is steeped in history, I felt much less foreign than I have other places.

I went with my friend from Los Angeles, Lee. We worked together a few years ago at a talent agency, she became my work wife, and we ended up quitting on the same day (couldn’t be without each other for even a minute). She is a super badass and went to work for Wendy Davis’ campaign in Texas, and since then she’s been traveling around Europe. It was so amazing to see her in that context. She had hiked the Scottish highlands alone, ridden a camel across the Sahara, also alone (well, that was with a tour group, but she was without a companion). Since I last saw her she’s been to dozens of countries, fallen in and out of love, learned a bit of a few languages–all while living out of a backpack.

Istanbul made me want to see more of Turkey, and I left happy with what I’d seen and done, but very aware to really “crack” the city, I’d need to spend much more time there. Which is my biggest problem–weekend trips are nice to see and do new things, but I think there’s a big difference between being a tourist and a traveler, and I think to really have traveled to a place you need to spend a while, set some roots, make some friends. Build a mini life. So while I love quick trips like this, I always leave just wanting more. Not necessarily a bad thing!

Galata Tower–our hostel was a two minute walk away. Great location, strange hostel. Think we were the only people in it our first two nights.

Literally the best dessert I’ve ever had.

We were right by the Bosphorus, and every morning the most delicious smelling restaurants fed people these (not as delicious smelling) fresh fish.

Hagia Sophia. Incredible museum first built in 537. Spent years as a Christian church until Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and it was converted into a Mosque. It’s so interesting because there’s iconography from both religions. This image is from 867.

The Weeping Column–if you touch it and your thumb comes back wet, you are said to be healed from illness.

Istanbul has so many homeless animals, but they’re all well taken care of–locals leave food out and make sure they’re fed and watered. I fell in love with this cat and thought seriously about smuggling it home with me. (I am an actual cat lady.)

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

The only thing of note that I didn’t photograph was our trip to a Hammam. One of the Turkish woman from our hostel recommended it, and it was both the highlight of the trip and the strangest travel experience I’ve ever had. She warned us it wasn’t a place for tourists, and there was a total language barrier, which made it more confusing but also much more authentic feeling. We arrived and were mimed to undress and go sit in a room with a lot of mini baths in it. After about 45 minutes we thought maybe that was it–just a public place to go and bathe, so we tried to leave. Then about 10 woman came in and took turns washing and scrubbing each other and us. We never knew when it was our turn and kept thinking it was over before it actually was. Then I got sharp looks for using my towel to dry my feet, and ended up having to put my sandals on my wet feet–got me a few blisters, that! I left feeling incredibly clean but not exceptionally relaxed. All in all, a great experience though.