It’s finally 2017. Happy New Year! I’m so amazed at how quickly this past year went, but with everything that was going on in the world and in life, I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one excited for this year and the opportunities and adventures coming. A lot of people have talked about how horrible their 2016 went, and despite Donald Trump being elected President and the plethora of economic, political, racial, and cultural fallbacks that the United States was in, I look back at the past year positively as a means to better prepare myself for what’s to come in 2017.
Michelle and I started this year in one of our favourite cities and continued to travel more than we thought was possible. Back in September, when we came back from our month long travels, I noticed that part subconsciously, part intentionally, I kept a few disposable cameras with me throughout the year. While I’m not the photographer between us two, I do love taking photos this way because it takes away the instantaneous gratification that iPhones, DSLR cameras and new technology give us. With a disposable camera, there’s only one chance to capture what you want in the moment. No redo’s, no “let me fix my hair” moments, no deleting photos. And that’s what I love most about it. You never know what’s going to come out until you develop them, and most times that’s done months later. To me, film is such an incredible form of photography. Having tangible memories once the photos are developed is such a beautiful way to recap, relive and remember the way the year’s events that have come and gone in the making, which is exactly what I’m going to share now.
I started this project on Facebook and asked some friends to comment on what photos, memories and places interested them most. Something I’ve always wanted for this blog was to be real, so a lot of what I’ve written below is very personal and nostalgic of this year. To everyone who has had a place in my life in 2016, thank you. I appreciate any and every lesson you’ve taught me or any experience we shared. To those who didn’t, sorry it didn’t work out. To those who might or who will in 2017, I hope you’re ready!
The New Year in London.
We started the year off in London! It was such a spontaneous decision that began with me feeling an emptiness of being in the city and needing to leave it (as usual). I had a 8-day Christmas break from work and asked Michelle if she wanted to go somewhere. We had a friend living in London at the time (though we aren’t friends any more, which ended right after we left London) that was gracious enough to let us stay with her at her flat.
I left the day after Christmas while Michelle joined me a few days later. We wanted to spend the New Year in a city we held close, a place we considered a second home. London was the perfect decision! During this short trip, I was also able to see my friend Imogen (pictured below) in her home town of Surrey, a few miles south of London. Having friends all over the world is one of the reasons we both love traveling so much. I met Imogen when I was studying abroad in London three years ago and we’ve kept in touch ever since. She’s now galavanting Amsterdam pursuing her Master’s. She’s probably one of the smartest people I know.
I’m not the biggest fan of my birthday. I know that’s a pretty cliche thing to say, but I always end up sad and just generally not enjoying myself. I think it stems from my INFJ personality and wanting everyone to have a good time, even if it means compensating my own fun. It also ALWAYS snows on my birthday. Every January 21st. As far back as 17, I remember a blizzard or some sort of snow fall. Last year was no different, but it didn’t stop me from trying to enjoy myself.
And I did! I went out with a few of my closest college friends (pictured are: Vanessa, Angie, Lisa) and celebrated at a Mexican restaurant with cheap margaritas and tacos! Only the best.
Winter + Spring 2016
Some time in February, my mom and I were on our way to work and began talking about life, careers, traveling and money. Since coming back from London a few weeks earlier, I knew that I didn’t want to be in the place I was. I wasn’t enjoying my job and I became disillusioned by a lot of things coming into my life. My anxiety had skyrocketed that winter and I wasn’t in a healthy state of mind. The fear of failure and fear of not having a stable income made me panic like I had never before. I also really missed school and how easy everything was during it. I would often seek solace in my mom; here’s a photo of her giving me one of her pep talks. I don’t always listen to her, but I’m glad to have a strong mother who is able to provide for my family the way she does. Isn’t she great?This is the view I looked out to every day when my job moved to the Flatiron District. 2016 brought me my first full-time job after graduation. I was working in music and thought it was everything I wanted for myself and my career! I was very lucky. However, looking out this window every day eventually made me very sad, because even though I was working in music, the thing I love most in the world, I wasn’t happy. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people who felt the same as I did about music, but I knew I had to let it all go for my mental health. I still remember this view even today, months after I left and I’m reminded of the fun opportunities my job brought me. No regrets.We’ve already written posts about Boston and Toronto, two trips we took in April and May respectively, so be sure to check out our recommendations for those. These two trips were amazing in that they reminded us that travel does not need to be far away or across oceans to be worthy. We want to take more trips like these in 2017, so that we can keep finding value and beauty in our country and our neighbors, instead of having to impulsively seek it out in those further away. More West Coast and Canadian adventures to come!
In May, we also traveled all around some east coast sites like Philadelphia, parts of Maryland and Virginia to tour hop along with one of our favorite bands, The 1975. Those adventures were amazing because Michelle and I and our close friend, Kayla, truly did it for the music. The crazy times and MegaBus stories that come with it are just an added bonus; they’ll forever be some of our funniest memories. We road trip across to other states without knowing how to drive. Only us. 😉
Early Summer 2016
June was a whirlwind. Mid month, I gave my my two weeks notice at my job and spontaneously decided to go to Costa Rica with Michelle and my best friend, Natalie, some 30 hours later. We hardly remember taking any planes there, but it was definitely one of the best (short) trips we’ve ever taken. Costa Rica is so breathtakingly beautiful and the people are some of the friendliest, warmest people we’ve ever met. We learned so much about history, the rich resources and plentiful biodiversity during our four days and saw so many unique animals, were able to zip-line, go to a coffee estate, visit many rain and cloud forests, a volcano (sort of…it was super cloudy the day we went) and the waterfalls! We lived life in the exact motto that Ticos do every day: Pura Vida!
July was very low key. I mostly wrote at home and worked on freelance projects, while Michelle did some photo work herself. Our cousin, Rosie, from Puerto Rico had also began living with us in early June, so we went around and showed her a lot of the city since she hadn’t been in a few years. It was hard for her to adjust from life on a small island to a big metropolis, but summer in New York is like no other. It’s hot and sweaty, but there’s always something to do. We enjoyed the rest of the month with her, until she decided to go back home at the end of July. For what it’s worth…the beaches just don’t compare. Michelle and I had also been anticipating the launch of this blog since March and finally decided to go live come August! It was a very random end of July because some more family came from Puerto Rico to visit. My grandfather had never been to New York either, so it was an incredible feat, as he’s 70 and his daughter (my mom) has been living here for 25 years now. It was good for us to re-explore New York and find reasons to fall in love with it again during our family’s time here.August was right around the corner, but it didn’t start off well. A very close member of our family got sick and sadly, passed away. Michelle and I had been planning trips to Europe for August and with all that was happening, we were very ready to cancel them. It was difficult and I still miss her every day, but we knew we had to keep going for her. We love you, forever, our miracle, R.I.P. I left first, on the 9th of August and jet set to Poland for my first time with my friend, Krystal, to begin the month madness.
Europe Trip ’16
Poland was incredible. Krystal and her family were already there, as her grandparent’s have a house in the southern countryside, near Zakopane. I arrived into Kraków where I met Krystal, for a few days of exploring the second capital city. We also took a trip to Oświęcim, the town where the former Auschwitz concentration camp was located during WWII. This was a very difficult day for me with everything that had happened back home. Similarly, upon arrival to Poland, a member of Krystal’s family was also in the hospital. To say the first week in Poland was dark and heavy is an understatement. It was also rainy as well, which didn’t make it any better. But we did our best to enjoy ourselves by learning and eating a lot. (Polish food is awesome)! I also tried learning Polish, with no luck. It’s one of the hardest languages for native English speakers, especially with their extensive alphabet. After a few days in Kraków, Krystal and I ventured down to Budapest for three days. It was a long 8-hour Polski bus ride down. We passed so many borders and through so many countrysides. It was a breathtaking ride, though. Krystal’s sister, Angie, had done her Master’s in Budapest and I had always been eager to visit the majestic city. I’m glad we did as it’s now in my top 10 favourite places. When we arrived back to Poland, I was told that Krystal would stay with her family instead of exploring the rest of Poland, Wroclaw and Gdansk, like we planned to do together. I understood her reasons behind it having been through the same myself, and bravely took on exploring two new cities by myself. It was my first solo travel experience EVER. What scared me the most was of course, the language barrier. I knew no Polish and most Polish people don’t speak English. Although that was my biggest fear, I’m so proud of myself for deciding to stick the trip through and continue. Next up: Wroclaw, Poland. My Airbnb in Wroclaw was right in the Rynek, or main square. I woke up to these colorful facades during my two days here. I immediately fell in love with Wroclaw. I arrived during the weekend, but being a solo traveler makes going out to enjoy the nightlife even more difficult. I trusted my instinct though and decided to go out and explore Wroclaw’s wild side regardless. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason; that everyone you meet isn’t a coincidence. This is Alicja. I met her during my solo night out in Wroclaw when I randomly hit up a speakeasy bar near my apartment. I was nervous being alone, but I went anyway and started asking if anyone there spoke English. She was my bartender that night. It was a calm night so I ended up talking to Alicja and the other staff the entire time! She made me the best cocktails and later, invited me to have lunch with her the next day. We ended up having a great afternoon. After her shift that night, we hit up a cool LA-themed bar (with sand and lawn chairs), until 5:30 AM! My train to Gdansk was only a few hours later, so I didn’t get much sleep, but I’m so happy that I met her, as we discovered that we are friendship soulmates. It’s amazing how similar we are. I miss her and only hope she’ll come visit New York soon. She is now studying theatre in Warsaw kicking serious ass.Ever visit somewhere that feels like a fairytale? That’s how I felt upon arrival in Gdansk, complete awe and euphoria. My ride up from Wroclaw was long, but after surviving solo already, I was pumped. There is so much history in Gdansk revolving around WWII, which is my favorite time in history to learn about. Gdansk was the first city taken over by the Nazis when they invaded Poland in ’39, and renamed it Danzig.I met two Swiss sisters while on a tour and had a chilled dinner with them on my first night. The highlight of this trip, however, was a Spanish family who adopted me as their honorary daughter. They had been on the same tour, too, and wanted to explore the city of Sopot, a port city close to Gdansk, as I did. They offered me a ride in their car and I spent the entire day exploring with them. Now, any time I need a place to stay when going to Madrid, I know who to ask. I’m forever grateful for their kindness to me! Across the Baltic Sea are a set of countries everyone knows to be my favorite: the Nordics. After visiting Denmark last year, I knew I had to keep the trend. Leaving Poland was sad and emotional, because I had such an incredible two weeks, but I was ready to continue up north. First up was Finland!An old friend from high school moved to Finland after we graduated. I told her about my plans to visit Helsinki hoping to meet since she was still living there. While we did have a falling out at the end of our senior year, I was happy at how receptive she was to me coming to Helsinki. We had a great time exploring the city and having beers on the Cathedral steps. Helsinki is very small and quaint, and had the exact vibe and aesthetic of Scandinavia that I love (expensive, minimalist, sleek, clean, etc). After leaving Helsinki, I was ready for the next part of the adventures because I’d finally be meeting up with Michelle and exploring another Scandinavian city we’d been dying to visit, Stockholm! We spent five long and happy days visiting museums, having many fikas, and relishing in the beauty of the city and its gorgeous people. Stockholm’s Michelle’s new favourite, but I’m still tied with Copenhagen.
The summer eventually ended and September came. Sadly, we were closing in on our last 10 days in Europe. After leaving Stockholm, we arrived in another historic city we were excited for, Berlin. Little did I know how important this city would become to me (but more on that in the future). The amount of history in Berlin was overwhelming. I think seeing bullet holes on the Berlin Dome’s cathedral took the cake. Berlin is one of the biggest cities we’d ever been to, so trying to cram as much knowledge, history and fun as we could proved very difficult. We tried walking everywhere too, especially since we were staying in Prenzlauer Berg, a beautiful, central and expensive part of the inner city. We soon realized that walking in Berlin isn’t an option, especially with the great transport system and biking! Being in Berlin also meant one very necessary thing: partying. This city is known for its nightlife. Unfortunately, it was getting to that point of our trip where Michelle and I started arguing a lot, inevitable when you’re traveling with someone. When it proved to be too much for me, I took to leaving Michelle on a Saturday night and meeting up with a native Berliner/seat mate I met while on flight to Berlin to do just that. Normally, I don’t do the whole, let me meet up with strangers I don’t know, but something about Berlin made me say yes to everything. This is Leo (eating Haribo like a proper German). He, his friend Michel and I all met up that Saturday night for drinks and general ruckus. I was stoked to be around natives because it’s truly the best way to explore a city’s nightlife, away from the tourist traps.
You know those moments abroad when you fall in love…well, that’s what happened. That night I really fell in love with Berlin as a city because I was being shown its true colors, by people who knew it best. We stayed out till 7 am and saw the sun come up, apparently normal on a night out in Berlin. Getting home to an angry Michelle wasn’t very fun (and she’ll never let me forget it), but I’m glad to have had the nightlife experience. And no, I didn’t end up at Berghain.
Final Days in Italy
The last destination on our trip was down south to Italy. My friend Monica was doing her own little trip beginning in Paris and so we decided beforehand to end the trip together in Naples (where her dad grew up), Capri and Rome (which I had been too before when I studied abroad). Michelle had never been to Italy so it was exciting to go back somewhere having knowledge of some of the culture’s inner workings already. I don’t think any of us enjoyed our time in Naples as much as we hoped. It wasn’t very clean, had lots of traffic and sketchy areas, plus Monica’s phone was stolen, so it wasn’t exactly a good start in Italy. So we decided to take a day trip out to Capri by boat. What a great decision. We passed by the Amalfi Coast and Positano on our way over. It was just what we needed. I’ll let the pictures speak for itself.Stunning, right? The ride to Capri was wonderful because it proved to us that people can actually live like this every day, at ease and in peace. I only hope to be in that place in my life in the future, too. After Capri and another night in Naples that included a day at the Pompeii ruins (even though it was pouring rain, hence why there are no photos), we headed to Rome and Salerno (where Monica’s former babysitter lived.) It was amazing how Monica and her babysitter’s relationship hadn’t changed even after so many years apart. We had a relaxing time with her and her family.Salerno was a dream, but after spending the night, we realized we only had one day in Rome to see everything. Since Monica had been there before, we decided to go our separate ways. She went shopping and back to some of her favourite spots, while I took Michelle all around the main attractions. What’s great about Rome is that most of them are near each other, so we pretty much walked to them all. We didn’t explore as deeply since we had little time, but we did our best. Rome isn’t my favorite city by any means, especially because of the mass amounts of tourists that are everywhere, which makes it difficult to enjoy. But on our last day, we were sad to be leaving such an eternal, historic city. After four weeks in Europe, it was time to say goodbye. Our flight’s layover to Lisbon was delayed, so we were all nervous that we wouldn’t get home in time. At the airport, we also weren’t in our best moods, and as most people know, I’m afraid of flying. The last few hours in Europe were emotional and stressful, to say the least. We were finally New York bound.
Back To New York
The first few weeks at home were a blur. Michelle and I were immediately depressed from being back and had to figure out what was next for us. I had left my job and had no plans to go head first into a new one. I still had some money saved up, so the rest of September, October and November came and went. I did go to my alma mater’s Homecoming and a few more shows, events and music festivals throughout the autumn, too.
Plans for the New Year
December also came and went quickly. I got a small side job to start saving up money again, with plans for better things and permanent work. The holidays also rolled around unassumingly for the most part. After all the adventures during the year, it was good to relax and not have any idea or plan for what’s next. However, before Christmas, I was given the news that I had been accepted into a Master’s program I had applied for! (more on that later…)
We’ve now made it back full circle to January. I’m very excited for this upcoming year and want nothing more than to go through it the way I did 2016. Looking back on it, I had a pretty incredible time, don’t you think? 🙂 So finally, I’d like to say…
Here’s to 2017!