A Slice of New York: Wait it’s a state?

When I tell people that I’m from New York they immediately get so excited. “Wow, I loveeeee New York City!!!” But wait, it’s a STATE with 40 million people. I guess it’s kinda like when I just came and moved to England-  many Americans straight up act like England is only London. I’m like…. giant pause. I get it. I get it. I’m not travel or geography shaming. It’s natural to associate with things we are familiar with. But I hope to give you a few suggestions so next time you head to New York you expand your horizons and don’t think the only thing to do is go to New York City! There is room for so many activites in NY state. A huge shout out to my friends from my Facebook page who helped me answer what their favorite things to do were in Upstate!! Couldn’t have thought of everything without you. Writing this brings back so many fond memories and makes me miss home, especially the people that make it my home. No matter how far I go– New York is always so close to my heart.

My hometown– Syracuse, NY- I gotta show ‘Cuse some love. Although I hate the winters there, fall and summer are pretty amazing. And winter is cool for winter sport lovers (which I am not.) Although, I never plan on living back in Syracuse, it’s a wonderful place to visit and call home. The  best time to visit Syracuse is the fall– drive around and admire the changing leaves, apple picking at Beak and Skiff and make sure to eat all of the apple cider donuts and Honeycrisp apples. Trust me on this one. Pumpkin picking. Corn mazes. We have it all. If you can head up to the Syracuse University campus and watch a game at the Dome, go eat and drink on Marshall street or Armory Square. That is a blast. You have never seen so much orange in your entire life.

Food– When I brought my boyfriend to my hometown this summer, I had a list a mile long of food he MUST try. Just like NYC is famous for pizza and bagels- Upstate has some epic meals and specialities you can’t really get other places. Some of my favorites include: salt potatoes, Dinosaur BBQ(the original), Pastabilities, Gannons(best ice cream ever), chicken riggies, Just Donuts and of course– WEGMANS. I kid you not– my father gave my boyfriend a 40 minute tour of our local grocery store. If you have ever been to Wegmans, you understand. It is the best grocery store I have ever been to and I have to visit every time I go home. My Dad was touring us around every aisle, we were eating samples around every corner and  he was introducing us to all of his worker pals. It was a true initiation and sounds hilarious when I say it out loud.

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A slice of NOLA: New Orleans Must Dos

A Slice of NOLA: New Orleans Must Dos 

The first stop on my summer travels around the world was back to my home country but to a city I have never been before. Nawlins. NOLA. Whatever you want to call it. I heard so much about New Orleans and I was ecstatic to check it out. I was visiting for my company’s annual summit conference so over 25,000 people invaded the city and hundreds from my team. This threw in a lot of conference-ing into the mix our week there but nonetheless, we still explored the city, ate all of the things, listened to amazing live music, got lost on Bourbon street and left a little piece of our heart there forever.

Here’s a slice of our trip and some must-dos when you are planning yours–

Where to stay:

A big group? Garden District Mansions– I highly recommend checking out the houses in the Garden District on Airbnb. My team and I of 20 girls stayed in a gorgeous home that was spacious, clean, and a short Uber ride away from every area we wanted to go. Not to mention, it was absolutely STUNNING.

If you haven’t used Air Bnb before, use this link( www.airbnb.co.uk/c/susannaha11 to get 30$ off your first booking.

Even if you don’t end up staying there, make sure you wander around the Garden District and check all the houses. They are incredible. You can even take the old  fashioned tram that runs from downtown New Orleans to the Garden district if you don’t enjoy walking a lot.

Solo travelers– If you’re on your own or on a tight budget, I highly recommend staying at Garden District House Hostel. It is one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in. Super clean, safe, lovely fully furnished kitchen, outdoor backyard area and very helpful staff. My boyfriend and I stayed there before the conference started and I would gladly stay there again.

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Bourbon Street vs. Frenchman Street– If you ask a local, they will tell you to go to Frenchman Street. I highly recommend it. The music is unbelievable and the bars are fun and lively. Bourbon Street is like something out of movie. There are drunk people everywhere carrying their drinks to-go (Hello no open- container law), live music,  beads, food, crowds. We went one night and one night was enough for us. I think it’s worth it at least to experience it but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time there unless you’re into the college-frat boy-spring break type drinking scene- then you’ll love it.

The French Quarter– If you love architecture and funky buildings this is the spot for you. It’s the oldest spot in New Orleans and you can find tons of  hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping. I wish we spent more time here because it truly gives you the vibes of the city.

Jackson Square & St. Louis Cathedral– Right next to the French Quarter- Jackson Square is a bustling scene with street vendors, psychics, horse and carriages. Definitely stop into St. Louis Cathedral and check out the stained glass and incredible architecture. My friend and I actually got psychic palm & tarrot readings right outside the cathedral and it was absolutely mind blowing. I would highly recommend it. The spiritual vibes in New Orleans are very strong and they even do haunted ghost tours of the city (which friends of mine did and really enjoyed.) I’m not here to convince you, but if you’re into stuff like that I would love to share details of my psychic experience.

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Is Bali Overrated?

Bali is one of the most magical places I have ever been. Overrated?? Absolutely NOT. I would visit there 100 times. I hope to live there long term at some point in my wild ride of a life. I’ve been promising this Bali blog since March and I currently have about four friends waiting from advice from me. So- I think it’s time. Here is my ultimate advice on Bali- what do, where to stay, what to eat, etc.

I’ve been twice. The first time with three American single girlfriends and myself (at the time also single)  and the second time with my partner. Needless to say the trips were very different but the magic about Bali was the same. You want to talk about vibes- Bali has the best vibes of any place I have ever experienced. It feels like the energy levels are sky high and you’re floating in a dream. I’ll write this with the thought that you haven’t already visited South East Asia so some things might be what you already know.

Airport: Stay somewhere where the airport shuttle is included. The nicer hotels are cheap enough that you can stay there for the first few nights (or the whole time depending on your budget) and save yourself the hassle of getting ripped off by the taxi drivers. They will be waiting for you at the airport with a sign and it just eliminates initial culture shock.

Taxis: Speaking of taxis, this is one of the worst parts about Bali. The incessant hounding for people to give you a taxi or motorbike ride or tour. This is an amazing way to see a lot in one day- we did it. But you have to make sure it’s someone you trust. Shop around and BARTER. Do not just pay the first amount they say- even if it seems cheap when you convert it. Your safest bet is using Blue Bird taxis and making sure they have the meter on. Some taxis pretend to be Blue Bird and even have a fake similar logo but you can spot the real from the fake. By far the cheapest  route is to rent a motorbike- but just make sure you take photos of it before so they don’t try to charge you for damages and that you are confident driving in the crazy Bali traffic.

Places to go:

Canggu– This is an up and coming area! I think in a few years it will be much more crowded- so get there now. It’s really peaceful and relaxed and there is a beach close by(which is good for surfing I don’t surf but my boyfriend enjoyed it.) The variety of restaurants is amazing and lots of fun nightlife. The town is mixed right in with rice fields and you don’t feel like you’re overrun by tourists but there are still people about. I would recommend 4 nights in Canggu or longer if you aim is to chill out and have a more relaxed Bali vacation.

Accommodation: We stayed at The Apartments at Canggu- highly recommend. We had our own private villa and pool. Very clean and helpful staff. Great location.

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Food & Nightlife: Nalu Bowls, Crate Cafe (MUST GO) , Finn’s Beach Club

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If you don’t like the book, STOP READING IT

Once again the anticipation leading up to my two weekends of traveling in July was validated and surpassed by the actual experiences. Amazing Thailand… always amazing. Our first weekend out of our town of Suphanburi in a few weeks was spent in Bangkok celebrating the Fourth of July! Nothing starts of Independence Day like being asked by your boss to sing the National Anthem in front of the whole school (about 2,500 Thai people). We asked for the day off to celebrate and our deal was that we had to sing the National Anthem in the welcoming ceremony for some visiting teachers from America first. Reluctantly we agreed because neither Jackie nor I have a good singing voice and it’s one of the hardest songs to sing for a GOOD singer. But, we already made plans to leave early and meet friends in Bangkok. We sucked it up and luckily recruited two more singers to join us so no ones talent stuck out too much.(Thanks Jared, even if you forgot the words) 😉

After being in Thailand for an extended period of time, when you are in Bangkok Khaosan Road is definitely not the first area that you are eager to visit. Since it was our American holiday weekend, we figured that Khaosan Road was the best place to run into travelers, backpackers and expats and hopefully find a way to celebrate despite being away from the Land of the Free! We did some research and found a great hotel right on Khaosan, D&D Inn with a rooftop pool, swim up bar and decent rooms. After our stellar rendition of the National Anthem we left school and hopped on the bus to Bangkok. We were in our red, white, and blue suits soaking up the sunshine and jumping in the pool by 1pm. Well worth the semi embarrassment.

As the day played out we began to meet new tons of new people. The pool was packed and we were surprised to meet a big crew of Americans. They understood our excitement! Things escalated quickly from there and despite the dirty looks we ran around that pool deck waving our American flag and made sure that every single person knew what July 4th meant to us! We even befriended a few Brits, Irishmen, and EVEN Canadians (LOL inside joke). The party continued that night on Khaosan Road, which is an experience like no other. For the rest of the weekend we continued to take over the rooftop pool, meet amazing people, shop, eat, dance, and especially laugh. We reunited with teacher friends that live in different areas and when we get together my cheeks literally start to hurt. Funny people make the world go round.

On Sunday we made the best discovery of the weekend, a little brunch/dinner spot a short tuk-tuk or even walk from Khoasan called Chomp. The food, coffee, sangria, milk shakes and desserts were heavenly. Yes, we tried them all…And, yes we not only ate brunch there, but also stayed late in Bangkok just so we could go to dinner there too. Nothing and I mean nothing pleases my friends and I more than a good meal, especially a good western style meal. Don’t get me wrong I ADORE Thai food, but in my town there are absolutely no options for other styles of food and sometimes you just need to satiate your craving for Italian, Mexican, Indian, French and ESPECIALLY SUNDAY BRUNCH. A twenty something girl has GOT to have a good Sunday Brunch spot, it’s basically a part of our genetic make up. After an action pack weekend in Bangkok school on Monday was extremely difficult but luckily my students’ smiling faces always make me feel good about where I am Monday morning. I really have the best of both worlds.

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Share your Lollipops

Inspiration is a perplexing concept. We draw inspiration from others and the world around us but ultimately inspiration is a highly personal experience. You can read the same book or watch the same film as your friend, lover, or mother and draw totally different inspiration from the same source. Some people are extremely difficult to inspire and others are inspired by minute daily beauty. As a writer, inspiration is something that is not only necessary but is truly like kryptonite. When I feel the words forming in my head, I can see the sentences budding like flowers in the springtime. When I feel the inspiration and the drive to condense my vast imagination into compartmentalized fuel…I must fulfill that need. Often I am inspired by other writers, reading their books and getting so lost in their created world I just can’t wait to create a world of my own. Often I am inspired by writers’ quotes or interviews about writing. I feed off their immense satisfaction with written words and begin to muse over what I can construct myself. As an educator, I am writing SOMETHING every single day. I have recently started a gratitude journal and it is remarkable way to write at least one (usually about 7 or 8) bullet points of little things I am grateful for that particular day. Here is a quick recap of what I have been extremely grateful for in the past few weeks.

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  • My health– Celebrating my 24th birthday on June 2nd was a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am to continue to grow older. Not to mention my IMMENSE infatuation with birthdays. I love making people feel special and birthdays are a great excuse to celebrate something (YOU). Seems like a common Gemini trait!;)  I also have made a commitment to myself to put my physical health- exercise and diet back at the top of my priority list. Endorphins are my drug of choice and they have been neglected a bit in my adjustment to my new world/ traveling the world. Sixty days of Insanity began this week and I am excited to challenge myself physically and mentally! I’m even dragging Jackie & Maggie along with me! 😉
  • My students- These little loves challenge me every single day and especially test my patience. But they are incredibly thoughtful, creative and kind. I got not one or two but FIVE birthday cakes on my birthday and countless presents. I was treated like a queen and it was totally unexpected but greatly appreciated. Once again Thailand surprised me with its ability to make me feel right at home on special days, holidays and random ordinary days.
  • Good food– You may laugh at this one. BUT IT’S TRUE! After a weekend in Bangkok with incredible western food including brunch at Roast BKK(Thonglor district, GO if you are visiting Bangkok), juicy burgers, gourmet salads, sushi, daily fresh pineapple sold on the street outside my apartment, you name it, I have been eating like a queen and nothing feeds my foodie soul quite like a GREAT meal with GREAT friends! J
  • Good shows– Current Obsessions: Games of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Modern Family. Laughing, drinking wine, and covering my eyes & gasping (A LOT) with my gal pals is a favorite past time lately.
  • My innumerable “lollipop moments” (I’ll explain later) and all of the incredible people who are attached to them. I am definitely what you call a “people person” Besides food; people are probably my favorite thing about life. I try to be as proactive as possible as I can about thanking those people who have helped me throughout my life. I try to do this as often as possible. I can’t leave my thanks unspoken. Currently I am thinking of wonderful teachers who have helped me along my journey; my parents, Chapman, Mr. & Mrs. P, Barrett, Kiesha Kiebler, Stephanie Lorenze, John Stallings and many teachers I never formerly had in a classroom, my big brothers, Lisa & Dave Craig, Punkie& Dickie Lighton, Krista & Zach Mendelson and many more whose influence cannot be forgotten. My friends, the very old and new; you are my shining stars. I can’t think you enough for your love, laughter, guidance, empathy and companionship. Thanks for your lollipop moments; you have touched my heart and life in ways that will never be forgotten.

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March Madness Final Round: America takes Thailand

It was such an awesome feeling returning “home” to Thailand. I really shouldn’t put that in quotes… this has been my home for the past 6 months and a wonderful one at that. It felt so great to be able to speak Thai again (no matter how little I actually speak), use baht, and feel comfortable with my surroundings. Not only was I home in Thailand but 3 short days later five of my closest friends from college were coming to visit me from America! Although I could not contain my excitement I also felt like my body just had been hit by an 18-wheeler. Over a month of backpacking will do that to ya. Luckily, I had two days to go back home to my quiet town of Suphanburi to unpack, do laundry, sleep, exercise and repack just to head right back out the door. Those two detox days were crucial to my survival for the rest of the trip. Not only did I have over two weeks left, I also had to play tour guide for 5 people who had never been to Thailand before! I needed to be on my game!

Waiting for them at the airport was one of the most nerve-racking, exciting sensations I have had in a while, and with all of my experiences lately, that is saying a lot. I knew their flight was delayed but when I got to the airport I had no way of contacting them. The flight board wasn’t updated yet when I got there and was on the opposite side as the arrival gate. Even when they landed their phones wouldn’t work internationally, so I just had to good old fashion wait. I made a little paper sign with an inside joke from college, “Wake up it’s Thailand time to pawty!”.

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March Madness Second Round: Cambodia

I am not sure what I expected when I heard the word Cambodia, but I can honestly say I was shocked when I got there. The first thing I noticed while driving on the bus from Vietnam to the small beach town Sihinoukville, Cambodia, was how dirty the country was. There was literally garbage everywhere. I was trying to keep an open mind, but after 17 hours on a bus, (actually multiple buses with transfers and long waits at shady bus stops) I wasn’t feeling too confident. The surroundings looked very barren and poor. Eventually we got to the last stop on the bus on a random road and got out to grab our backpacks and make our way to the guest house. Literally, we got harassed by 17 tuk-tuk drivers trying desperately to get our business. The tuktuk drivers in Cambodia were so aggressive it shocked me! Finally, we negotiated a fair price with one of the drivers and piled our five battered bodies and 5 giant backpacks into one small tuk-tuk.

We were driving along the road and all of a sudden civilization appeared. There were bars and restaurants, supermarkets, tons of people walking up and down the streets, and of course dozens of tuk-tuk drivers. We checked into Sekal Guesthouse, which has a great location and clean rooms for a decent price (if you looking for a place to stay in Sihanoukville). We dropped off our backpacks, showered and ventured out to find some food. We stumbled upon a place called Mum’s Kitchen; which was a real hole in the wall place right across the street from our guesthouse. The food was incredible. At least one of us ate there, at least once a day for the entire week we stayed. Once we were full, we heard music and decided to wander into the bar next door called Utopia. Chaos ensued from there and we discovered that Sihanoukville may be a small town, but they sure know how to have fun. We spent all night dancing the night away running from beach bar to beach bar on the infamous Serendipity Beach.

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March Madness First Round: Vietnam

First, I would like to start by absolutely commending bloggers who backpack travel and keep up with their blog at the same time. I need to try to master the art, but due to a lack of Wifi, a lack of concentration, relentless hangovers and far too much shopping & sightseeing, I find it works better for me to summarize my journey at the end. I decided to brake up my backpacking trip blogs by the countries I visited; Vietnam, Cambodia and then back to Thailand for an amazing visit from my American best friends and the celebration of the Thai new year,Songkran(one of most unique experiences of my journey so far). I lovingly nick named our trip March Madness, in an ode to the NCAA college basketball tournament in America, but it ended up being just that; MADNESS!

So, I will dive into Vietnam first. I was so excited for my first time leaving Thailand since I moved here 6 months ago! My bestie and travel guru (shout out to Kelsey) planned our itinerary, but tried to keep it as flexible as possible (only booking our first flight and first hostel) everything else was an approximate guideline so we could stay places longer when our hearts desired. I was all packed and ready to go the night before our trip and I decided to double-check my passport, my Visas,and my wallet…. OH SHIT! My credit card…is…where? A frantic search of my room began disheveling all of my neatly organized and folded piles of clothes, toiletries, and electronics. WHERE IS MY CREDIT CARD!? This is actually one of the scariest feelings in the world in another country, with a non refundable 2 month trip planned scheduled to leave for the airport that morning at 4:30 am. My biggest problem was it was my Thai bank account, where my paychecks are directly deposited to; I don’t use any other money right now besides my salary so it was my only lifeline. Our flight was scheduled to leave before any of the banks opened and they didn’t have Thai banks in Vietnam or Cambodia…

Tears started wailing from my eyes like a two-year-old child having a tantrum. I stormed into Jackie’s room and told them the news. Of course they offered to help me but the problem was we were all living off the same salary and we wouldn’t be back to Thailand for a month! I knew there was no way they could lend me money while still enjoying and surviving their vacation as well. I couldn’t take them up on their offer even if they forced me.So, I called my super heroes, my lifelines, the two most supportive people in the world… my parents. Of course I got a small lecture about responsibility but they luckily understood and we began to figure out options. I traveled the whole next day with next to no money, I felt so helpless and aggravated. After a lot of tears and a lot of emails back and forth with my Dad I finally got the money Western Union-ed two days later. It felt like an eternity but I was so grateful to have such amazing parents who would literally do anything for me. (THANKS GUYS). And now the fun could begin!

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