A Fjord ing Scandinavia

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While most people are avoiding cold destinations in the dead of winter, Patrick and I decided Scandinavia in February was a great idea. For one, we usually do stay away from what other people do. We’re not exactly trendsetters, more-so bargain hunters. With Pat potentially coming to the US in March, we needed a destination to meet in the "middle" – somewhere between NYC and London.

After finding a bargain deal on a flight, Copenhagen became the destination. While known to be more expensive than most European spots, we planned to use the advantage of a cheap flight along with eating in and staying cozy in Airbnbs throughout the trip. Still, it was not cheap.

 Scandinavian's prized herring

Scandinavian's prized herring

This should not take away from how gorgeous both Denmark and Norway are, however. We were there in the off-season for tourists, making it feel a bit more secluded and definitely less hectic. It added to our lazy holiday vibe, which we enjoyed. Most days were spent waking up late, grabbing unexpectedly great coffee at a local café, wandering around, stumbling upon a good bar or lunch spot, and even having an occasional nap. True vacations are restful after all, right?

On certain days we did plan outings. For instance on our last full day in Copenhagen, we took the train less than an hour away to a city recommended by our Airbnb host. The city was Helsingor, a quaint little port town with a castle, cobblestone streets, and again, delicious coffee. From Helsingor we went about 20 minutes by train to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, named after the original property owner who had wed three separate women all named Louise. The museum is situated in an old house, right on the edge of the sea. It was styled in the typical Danish Modern architecture, and housed some interesting exhibits, including a current one on the ceramics of Picasso. I would definitely recommend the day trip if you have the time while venturing through Denmark.

"When Louisiana opened its doors in 1958, ...it was Knud W. Jensen's vision to create a museum with soul, where the public could encounter artwork – not as something pretentious, but rather something that spoke directly to the viewer...From the start, Louisiana's exhibition practices followed the tradition at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which in the first half of the twentieth century had become famous – and notorious – for expanding the range of modern art to include architecture, design, photography, film and other genres". 

The food in Copenhagen was unbelievably good. It is so rare to find bad food that it will live on in my heart as one of the most foodie cities I’ve ever visited.

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Our best meal had to have been at Host, a restaurant I’d found out about simply by doing extensive research weeks before. Meaning, yes, I curated our days around when we could eat at certain places. Started by a former Noma chef, the venue is made up of dimly lit, minimalist, white-washed walls, retro Edison bulb lamps, potted plants and twiggy vases, rustic wooden tables, as many Danish restaurants seemed to be decorated.

Høst is the Danish word for harvest. As the name reveals, great Nordic ingredients and seasonal greens sets the agenda at Høst—served with a sense of both the rustic and the elegant, and always with big flavors.

Høst has won several International design awards, among them Worlds’ Best Designed Restaurant at Restaurant & Bar Design Awards and World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant in American travel magazine Travel + Leisure.

Copenhagen, Denmark: Top 3 Places to Eat

1.      Kroyers

2.      Warpigs

3.      Host

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Coffee

Coffee Collective (in Torvehallerne Market)

Casual

Torvehallerne Market – fish section with salads, bakery, coffee

I Love Fisk- Fried fish cake

Hija de Sanchez- super casual, small tacos by former Noma chef

Ma’ad Ethiopian – the only “cheap eats” we really found (delicious, too!)

Kroyers – tartines and AWESOME coffee

Christianshavns Faergecafe – herring and smorrebord

La Tigella- Italian, cozy, romantic

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Fancy

Host- Noma-style dishes, local ingredients, impeccable plating, unbelievably good

Ralae – recommended, didn’t visit

Noma

Attractions

Day Trip to Helsingor

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Bars

Warpigs – American BBQ and craft brews

Soernes Ol – craft beers, cave atmosphere

Barking Dog – quirky cocktail bar

Olsnedkeren – craft beers and games

La Fontaine – jazz club (Sunday jam sesh)

Not Your Mothers – low key wine bar owned by American (tastings, cheap, buzzy)

 

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Reading List 2017

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In 2017 I had a goal of reading 50 books. I only made it to 44, but I WILL get to 50 this year!!! Below are my reads, spanning all categories and topics, with brief descriptions (and/or opinions :)). Let me know if you have any recommendations below!

1. Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance :  Christopher McDougall

Christopher McDougall is a phenomenal writer in that he makes you suddenly crave to do the things he's doing, which in this book is unreal battles against gravity by running up cliffs in Greece. But he also provides historical context. After closing his books I always feel a bit smarter and I usually don't complain as much at the gym...

2. Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness : Scott Jurek

Interesting story from the perspective of ultra marathon legend Scott Jurek. From being what calls a "talentless child" to becoming a champion of 50, 100, 150 mile races all the while becoming a vegan along the way. 

3. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo : Amy Schumer

This was a lot deeper than I expected from the hilarious Amy Schumer. It still had her sense of wit, but woven throughout were some intimate details and strong beliefs.

4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Milan Kundera

A captivating philosophical novel. "This magnificent novel juxtaposes geographically distant places; brilliant and playful reflections; and a variety of styles to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world’s truly great writers."

5. The Shadow of the Wind : Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I read this just before leaving for Barcelona, where the story takes place. “It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.”

6. The Geography of Bliss: Eric Weiner

"Part travel memoir, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss takes the reader across the globe to investigate not what happiness is, but WHERE it is." An interesting, thought-provoking yet light read.

7. ¡Yo! : Julia Alvarez

Written by one of my favorite Dominican authors (the position tied with Junot Diaz!). "A zesty, exuberant follow-up to the wildly popular How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, full of Julia Alvarez's keen observations and tender affection for her characters."

8. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents: Julia Alvarez

9. Running with the Firm: James Bannon

Spending more and more time in London, and with a favorite movie of Green Street Hooligans, this book was not only interesting (it's nonfiction!) but keeps you on your toes throughout. James is a cop who tells firsthand his time undercover with a football hooligan gang.

10. SS-GB: Len Deighton

A well-written 'what-if?' thriller on the Second World War that is now a major BBC series. "In February 1941 British Command surrendered to the Nazis. Churchill has been executed, the King is in the Tower and the SS are in Whitehall…"

11. A Dog's Purpose: W. Bruce Cameron

After a recommendation from my animal-loving Nana, I had to give this book (also made into a movie) a try. The movie is not the best, but the book was heartwarming.

12. A Dog's Journey (the sequel): W Bruce Cameron

13. Notes from a Small Island: Bill Bryson

14. Let the Great World Spin: Colum McCann

What quickly became one of my favorite novels, this enthralling story takes place in 1974 as a tightrope walker attempts to cross between the Twin Towers. "A dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s."

15. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook: Anthony Bourdain

Another Bourdain best. If you haven't already, I recommend Kitchen Confidential. Life seen through Bourdain's somewhat-jaded eyes is just more fun.

16. You Will Not Have My Hate: Antoine Leiris

17. Thrive: Arianna Huffington 

Surprisingly, I did not like this book, and ended up skimming most pages towards the end. I just found it a bit redundant to all the "Lean In"-esque books out there these days.

18. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier : Ishmael Beah

Heart-wrenching and powerful; Very hard to read at times but as one reviewer was quoted, everyone in the world should read this book

19. A Handmaid's Tale : Margaret Atwood

Creepy and nightmarish but also a great current read. Recently made into a HULU TV series.

20. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World: Adam Grant

I liked Originals better than any Malcom Gladwell books I've read, combined! To me he doesn't seem as pretentious; he writes with data driven statements but without sounding condescending or boring, and the overall message was truly inspiring - fight groupthink, be original!

21. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future : Ashlee Vance

A great insight into one of the brilliant minds of our time.

22. Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front: Mary Jennings Hegar

23. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss and Hope in an African Slum

24. Rich20Something : Ditch Your Average Job, Start an Epic Business, and Score the Life You Want  by Daniel DiPiazza

25. Americanah : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

26. The Heart and The Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL

27. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: Mark Sullivan

Cannot say enough good things about this phenomenal book! "Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, the #1 Amazon Charts bestseller Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours."

28. Half of a Yellow Sun: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

29. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: Malcolm Gladwell

30. Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey: Ernesto Che Guevara

31. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America: Erik Larson

32. X: Sue Grafton

33. Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell

34. A Thousand Splendid Suns: Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini is a beautiful writer. I've cried while reading his books and I always walk away with a greater understanding of an area I've never traveled- the Middle East. 

35. Lab Girl: Hope Jahren

36. Ultra Marathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner: Dean Karnazes

Karnazes has become one of the most famous ultra marathoners, and his book made going to the gym seem that much easier.

37. Girl in a Band: A Memoir: Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth)

38. The Vegetarian: Han Kang

Word of warning: This book was very strange and very disturbing.

39. The Dry: Jane Harper

40. Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light: John Baxter

The perfect read for the flight to Paris! (I would also recommend The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, about Hemingway's wife, Hadley)

41. Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms: Amanda Steinberg

Written by the founder of DailyWorth.com, this book gives an original take on your typical "self-help financial advice". "Worth It outlines the essential financial information women need—and everything the institutions and advisors don’t spell out. Steinberg gets to the bottom of why women are stressed and anxious when it comes to their finances and teaches them to stay away from strict budgeting and other harsh austerity practices."

42. The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini

43. Lilac Girls: Martha Hall Kelly

"Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances." It makes you think twice before complaining about your crowded subway commute...

44. You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth: Jen Sincere

This was the perfect read to end the year and start 2018 with a fresh perspective. Jen speaks from personal experience and gives steps on how to trust the universe and manifest your happiness and wealth (don't knock it till you try it :)). If you like this read, I definitely recommend E-Squared by Pam Grout.

 
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I'd love to hear your recommendations to get started on the 2018 list! Let me know below :)

Fight or Flight

 it' s thai-m to get out there

it' s thai-m to get out there

How to find ANY flight for cheap

1. Hopper

Hopper is my favorite app when it comes to figuring out flight deals. It keeps a watch on the ups and downs of current flight prices and lets me know, based on history, if I should wait or buy at the time of search. It also sends notifications when the price changes (like the typical price alert from a website, but on your phone so you see it immediately versus having to check email).

2. Skyscanner - set price alerts

Skyscanner feeds my inner gypsy with it's Everywhere feature. You can literally just type in your home city/airport for departure and "Everywhere" for destination. For dates, I've been known to use the "Cheapest Month" feature as well. GYPSYHEAVEN.

Another favorite part of the tool is the ability to see whole months at a time, as well as selecting "Nearby Airports". The larger airports get the most traffic, and therefore, sometimes give the highest prices.

3. Google.com/flights - set price alerts

The advantage of setting both Google AND Skyscanner alerts is that certain airlines (i.e. JetBlue) actually aren't covered on the SkyScanner searches. Google covers them all in real time. I set multiple dates around the time I'd like to travel, and let 'em work their magic over the next few weeks or months. 

4. Choose new airports

In NYC we all know we have the normal options of Newark, JFK or LaGuardia, however, most do not know that Stewart (up north in Newburgh, NY) now has super cheap flight options because of Norwegian Air. 

Just last month I flew Stewart to Edinburgh, Scotland for $385 round-trip nonstop. Norwegian is a low budget airline, and I did choose the most economic option, meaning no seat reservations or checked bags. But I also flew to the United Kingdom for less than a flight to California!!!! It was a new plane, there were no frills like personal TVs, but I popped a melatonin and took a sleep in the sky. I woke up in Scotland before you could say WEE LAD!

5. Get Creative

Sometimes it's best NOT to fly directly into the desired destination. In the above example, I was flying in to Edinburgh to eventually get myself to London (normally $900+ for direct flights in the summer). I took a train- a sleek Virgin Train with WIFI and working outlets included - UK in 4 hours, for $45 each way. In Europe, you can sometimes get lucky and find budget airline flights for anywhere from $20 - $50. I once flew from Dusseldorf, Germany to London for 10 GBP (about $20 USD at the time!) on Ryanair.

I would recommend the same for Asia. While traveling through Southeast Asia we once took a $50, 14 hour overnight train, only to realize later we could've taken a $50 TWO HOUR flight!!!

To this day, the best deal I ever snagged was an $880 roundtrip flight back to the US from Australia on Virgin Australia. I left out of my home at the time, Melbourne, and stopped in Brisbane, finally landing at LAX. From LAX I used miles to fly for $Free.99 to NYC, giggling my way home. I was both delirious from the amount of flying and the feeling like somehow I had finally cheated the system. 

You live and you learn :)

 And before/after/during your flight, be sure to treat yo' self!

And before/after/during your flight, be sure to treat yo' self!

*Updates*

6. Skiplagged

Skiplagged gives you the advantage of seeing hidden city flights (legs where the traveler exits before the final destination) faster than any other site. It's like a real-life cheat code. #rosebud

7. Scott's Cheap Flights

Scott is my platonic soulmate that I never met. He used to be a one-man-band (but has developed into a whole team of searchers!) that scan the web for the cheapest flights daily, and then email them out to you once you've subscribed. I found a $505 nonstop flight NYC - Madrid and then Barcelona - NYC last April through his alerts! 

 Rocking a canadian tuxedo in espana After getting there for only $250

Rocking a canadian tuxedo in espana After getting there for only $250

8. Earning and Using Miles

One of my favorite ways to (attempt to) cheat the flight system is by using miles (IMO). I promote the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card like it's my job because I truly believe it is THE best. After you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the account, you receive 50,000 bonus points which are directly transferable to major airlines like Virgin, Delta, KLM, and Southwest. OR you can use those miles to book through Chase travel and it will equal $625. You constantly earn double points on travel and dining, so to me it's a win-win. (Oh and $0 annual fee the first year!). Just don't keep a balance and you'll be flying high. 

I've used my miles for free round-trip nonstop flights from NYC to Austin, Atlanta, LA, the Dominican Republic and even London (and at least 2 DC to Vegas flights :)). To put it into perspective, an average nonstop flight NYC - Atlanta (or similar domestic hubs) on Southwest is usually under 20,000 miles, so already you've amassed enough points by opening the account to fly twice. 

 

If you have other flight-finding tips, I'd love to hear them!! Drop a(n) (air)line below.

- Al

Manifest Destiny

A little over a month ago, I landed back in America. My Working Holiday Visa had expired in Australia, and Immigration Officers quickly deported me. Just kidding, I left a day before it expired so nobody got hurt. (I even asked the officers at the airport if they would stamp my passport since they normally don't for electronic visas. The guy goes, "No I can't. But YOU can!" And hands me the stamp. Reason #349018 why I LOVE Australia). 

I flew in to LAX, and not having an immediate job set up, I decided to stay awhile! I met up with Ray and we ventured into the unknown waters of Venice Beach. Meaning, we rode hipster bikes and ate at delis filled with pretentious yuppies. At the first lunch spot, we overheard the guy in front of us asking if the salmon was wild, where it was caught, did it have other salmon friends, and did it have nuts in it. 

 Pretentious sandwiches : Pretentwiches

Pretentious sandwiches : Pretentwiches

At the second Venice spot, I almost lost my cool when Giada DeLaurentis (newly single) walked in. In Australia, no one takes pictures with celebrities. That would be uncool. So, fresh off the Australian scene, I didn't take any pictures with her (despite my internal FOMO). 

From Venice, Ray and I began our camping trip into the desert. We were heading to Joshua Tree National Park to explore and camp out for a night. Unprofessional campers that we are, we didn't reserve a spot at the campsite and we're almost SOL when UUUUUNIIIII (the universe) swooped in and pointed us to an expired spot. Meaning, it was time to google how to set up a tent. Meaning, it was time to break out the wine.

We were lucky enough to witness one of the famous desert pink skies that night. But we were unlucky enough to have super annoying, inconsiderate societal rejects on their Spring Break being loud right next to our tent. So we popped some mellys (Melatonin) and tried to knock off. But instead I had to pull a mother-like SHHHHHHH and was laughed at .... I'm getting so old. The fact that if you interrupt my much needed beauty rest I call you a societal reject should say enough...

After epically camping and living the true nomad way, meaning dirtily, we decided the next stop would be a bit more glamorous. Because you always gotta treat yo self! We booked an AirBnb in Palm Springs and called it a day. We were staying with two lovely ladies who naturally informed us that in Palm Springs, "you're either grey, or you're gay". Being super non-mainstream as Ray and I are, we happily announced that we are neither.

 

Post-Palm Springs adventures, we drove down to see my long lost travel gnomes, Taylor and Liz, in San Diego. I hadn't seen either of them since we parted ways in Indonesia literally a year earlier. To say I was excited IS A MERE UNDERSTATEMENT. They were still living the dream in the mansion Taylor's family inherited (no, I'm not making this up). Once we dropped our bags in our respective bedrooms, because why not, we headed out to drink cappuccinos the size of our heads, feast on brunch, and have a luxurious day of drinking that is only acceptable in places like San Diego.  

My entrance back into the States has been exciting enough to reduce my severe PADS (Post Alcohol Depression Syndrome, or newly, Post Australia Depression Syndrome), and I'm excited to announce I'll be reducing them (or just distracting myself from them) even further by traveling across country next week. Leaving from San Diego, I plan to drive all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast, and stop for some eats along the way (obv). 

Back with the updates post-trip!

The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything.

- Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul