Travel

HOW TO BRING TRAVEL HOME

Half in a daydream, my bags already mentally packed – I’m a person that is always conspiring towards my next trip. In fact, our suitcases were barely back in the closet after an escape to St. Pete Beach, FL in late February when the world went into quarantine. And while, judging by Instagram at least, it does seem like people are moving about the country right now on summer trips – we have no plans to do the same (in the immortal words of JVN – “Just because you Ameri-CAN, doesn’t mean you Ameri-SHOULD”). And the rest of the world won’t even have us. Which leaves me without any travel plans for the first time in about a decade.

To fill the void, I’ve started to think about how I could bring the feeling of travel home instead. And here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Escape into a Book or Movie instead. Dreaming of Paris? Pick a rainy afternoon, pop the champagne and have a movie marathon – I love Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn and Midnight in Paris (minus the connection to Woody Allen). Had to cancel your summer getaway to Italy? I read Call Me By Your Name earlier this year and then watched the movie all in one weekend and felt totally transported. I can’t wait to read ‘From Scratch’ a memoir set in Sicily next.

Cook a Dish from that Region. I think we can all agree that trying the local flavors is one of the best parts of traveling. And has there ever been a better time to learn something new in the kitchen? Try recreating that amazing paella you had in Spain, find the recipe for those biscuits you fell in love with in South Carolina or learn to make sushi before that dream trip to Japan. Admittedly, I am not the world’s most innovative cook, but I actually love doing this with cocktails. I whip up a French75 when I want to reminisce about Paris and 8 years after a trip to Arizona, I’m still trying to recreate a perfect spicy tequila cocktail I sipped there.

The Steele Maiden: Travel Guide to London

Sort Your Travel Photos. This always seems like such a chore – but at the beginning of quarantine I sorted through our travel photos to find all of my “front door” pictures and saved them to a separate folder in my phone. I plan to get them printed into a coffee table type book, but even now – just looking at them all grouped together makes me feel happy and takes me back to the places where the snapshot was taken.

Dress for the Trip You Want. I don’t think it comes as any surprise that I take a lot of joy in planning the outfits I’m going to wear on any particular trip. I like to try and add a little bit of the feeling of that destination into my wardrobe. And even if I can’t pack my bags – I could still dress up for a movie night at home in my favorite French-inspired look, mais non?

Do Your Research Now. Shy of actually booking your flight – now would be a great time to dig into researching some of the places you’d like to go in the future. I like to use a mix of Instagram (search hashtags of cities or tagged locations) and Google Maps (I star anywhere I want to visit and then plan each day of the trip based on what’s grouped nearby). It’s the equivalent of hitting ‘add to cart’ and then not going through checkout. I really do still get a little rush of endorphins just from the planning.

Happy virtual travel friends!

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WHAT’S NEXT FOR NEW YORK?

Last night Adam and I reminisced about summer nights in the city. We have a shared favorite memory that started at happy hour in the East Village followed by a crowded subway ride, then an outdoor movie in the park – a blanket squeezed in among strangers – which led us to a loft party in Williamsburg and finally a cab ride back to my old apartment on the Upper East Side. It was the kind of night that began with almost no plans at all and was swept along by the current of New York City in the summertime. A night that seems as impossible now as it seemed possible then.

A few of you have asked me to describe New York right now and if I had to sum it up – it would be that the spark has sort of gone out this summer. That feeling of spontaneity (the best kind of uncertainty) has gone missing. The spark has been replaced instead with a slow burning tension. A shared understanding that we’re all but powerless over the fate of this city.

Teenagers sit on stoops looking restless, itching to get into trouble just to have some say in the story of their summer. A cashier at the grocery store laments to me that he used to work in theater and misses the creativity.. but is thankful to have a job. The park is full of women and their babies in the morning, many of whom look unsure about their newly appointed title of stay at home mom. They wear workout clothes while their heels presumably collect dust at home. 

Cops stand guard alongside barricades outside our neighborhood precinct and in front of the Washington Square Park Arch. Protecting themselves and their monuments while a convenience store 20 blocks away is robbed at gunpoint. An older woman in our neighborhood compares it to the New York of the 1970s. She says she’s seen it all. Tells us to be careful.

Moving trucks line the streets as fair weather city dwellers go in search of fairer weather. Without the usual swarm of summer tourists those of us that are left spread out like we own the place – because well, we do. The streets are ours alone to rule or to ruin.

The truth is that no one has ever known what’s next for New York but that hasn’t stopped the evolution. And so, we go on. The protests and the progress. The work that needs to be done and the feelings that need to be wrestled with. The thick August heat and our relentless hope keeping the embers of this city hot until it can spark up again.

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MY NYC HOLIDAY BUCKET LIST

Aside from the cold – this really is the most magical time of year in New York. The city is decked out in its holiday best, there are lights everywhere and plenty of occasions to pour a glass of bubbly. I can’t get enough. Which is why I wanted to create a holiday bucket list to be sure that I make time to enjoy as much of the season as possible. Some of the things on my list are beloved traditions at this point while some are things we have still yet to experience in New York and really want to get around to doing this year. Also – a reminder that not everything has to be expensive this season – plenty of the things on my list are super budget friendly, if not free!

Ice skating Dates:

Now that Adam and I both own ice skates, we want to take advantage of all of the fun rinks in the city! My favorite is skating in Central Park – with the city in view around you – but Bryant Park and Rockefeller Rink (if you get there super early or on a weeknight) are also great. Budget tip: Bryant Park is actually free to skate at and so are locker rentals if you bring your own lock, so this is a great cheap date idea.


Lights at Dyker Heights:

Remember that one house in your town that used to go all out with lights and yard decorations for the holidays? Dyker Heights is like that.. but x100. A neighborhood in Brooklyn where for about 4 square blocks – every single house is boasting thousands of Christmas lights, and more Santas and snowmen then you have ever seen in one place. We usually pack a “car picnic” and then drive through the neighborhood while listening to holiday tunes. Festive and totally free!


Dinner at Lucien and Minetta Tavern:

There are some restaurants that just really shine in the winter. Cozy and intimate, all candlelight and linen tablecloths, they make braving the cold for date night well worth it. Lucien in the East Village and Minetta Tavern in the West Village have been on our restaurant bucket list for a long time and I’d love to finally try them both this holiday season.


Hot Toddies, Rockefeller Tree + Fifth Avenue Windows:

This has quickly become one of our favorite holiday traditions. We pick a Sunday evening in December, make a big thermos of hot toddies and then head uptown to see the Rockefeller Tree and the windows on Fifth Avenue. Notoriously crowded and often quite cold – we found that the hot toddies really raise your spirits on the trek and ultimately make the whole thing a lot more fun.

Volunteer:

It can be easy to get swept up in all of the consumption of the holidays without pausing to think of those that are having a much tougher time. I hate to think of families that are struggling to get a few gifts under the tree for their kids – so this year, Adam and I starting the yearly tradition of picking up toys for local families. Someday, we plan to continue this with our own little ones, letting them pick out toys for kids in our community that are less fortunate than them. We’re looking into Stockings With Care or Operation Santa – or both!

Jazz Standard Holiday Show:

I love live jazz any time of year, but it feels extra festive around the holidays. Jazz Standard in Gramercy is one of our favorites for big band style jazz and last year we went on January 1st which was such a fun way to kick off the new year.  

West Village Wander:

Is there any place prettier than the West Village around Christmas? I love taking a Saturday, hot chocolate in hand and just wandering through the streets and looking at everyone’s decorated doors. Grove Street is a particular favorite. 

Classic Movie at the Theater:

Our local movie theater plays classics like It’s A Wonderful Life this time of year and I want to make it a point to catch one – even better if it’s one I’ve never seen!

SHOP THE STORY:

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MY FAVORITE BOOKSTORES IN THE WORLD

Bookstores have always been one of my happiest places. My Mom worked in a library when I was a little girl and there’s something about being surrounded by books that I find deeply comforting. A tiny corner to hideaway from the world and explore one that might be completely foreign to you.

Not surprisingly, I’ve got a handful of tried and true favorite bookstores here in New York and almost always seek out bookstores when we travel (I like to buy books when I travel that remind me of that specific place – Little Women from a bookshop in New England for instance or Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ in Paris).

I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite shops around the world and hope that if you have a favorite that’s not on this list in your town (or someplace great that you’ve traveled) you’ll share it with me so that I can add it to my list.

  1. Strand Bookstore (Union Square, NYC) – This is my home court so to speak. For 6 of my 10 years in New York I’ve lived within walking distance to the Strand – and you can bet that if I’m within a few blocks of passing by, I’m going in. So many books on my shelf have come from here and I love that they also will buy books back in good condition – in the case that your tiny apartment no longer holds your collection. It gets packed on the weekends but I love the feeling of New Yorkers (and a good fill of tourists) all jammed in together, excited to get a new book.
  2. Shakespeare & Co (Paris, France) –  If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me. That logic applies to both bars and bookstores, but in the case of Shakespeare & Co. you can get your fill of reading. The original opened in 1918 and then passed along its name to the new location, which sits along the banks of the Seine and opened in the 1950s. From F. Scott Fitzgerald to Allen Ginsberg to Zadie Smith, generations of American writers have passed through the doors of this tiny English-language bookstore in the City of Light. It’s a must visit before you browse the vintage book sellers along the river.
  3. The Spotted Dog (Hudson, NY) – Less than two hours north of Manhattan, along the quaint main street of Hudson – The Spotted Dog earns a spot on this list because it combines two of my favorite things – books and beer. A full bar with craft beer on tap sits right among the shelves. Adam and I passed an entire rainy afternoon in this sweet little spot and I can’t wait to go back again this Fall.
  4. Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC) – A cute little shop right along upper King Street. There’s a lot of shopping in this stretch that feels touristy but Blue Bicycle has an authentic Southern hospitality in my opinion, with friendly staff and a great selection. Don’t miss grabbing a biscuit at Callie’s afterwards.
  5. Albertine (Upper East Side, NYC) – An extension of the French Embassy, this swoon-worthy bookstore is devoted to French & English books and sits across from Central Park on Fifth Avenue. After a stroll through the park, I suggest popping in just to see the grand ceilings alone and picking up a tres bien livre (very good book).
  6. Daunt (London, England) – This one really has my heart. A travel-focused bookshop set in London’s very posh Marylebone neighborhood, my study abroad University was just a few blocks away from this so I passed many hours between classes by popping into this shop. It’s just beautiful inside and when I finally had a chance to go back a couple of years ago, it was still as charming as ever.
  7. Brattle Bookshop (Boston, MA) – One of the oldest and largest used bookstores in America, this one fits well with Boston’s historic charm. You’ll find plenty of great affordable options plus rare first editions all just a skip away from a stroll through Boston Common.
  8. Rizzoli (Flatiron, NYC) – Another NYC favorite – I couldn’t possibly just pick one.. or two – is conveniently located in the Flatiron district and is a wealth of beautiful coffee table books, new fiction, hobby sections like cooking or photography and a cute kids section. I often pop in on my lunch break just because its so pretty inside.
  9. South Congress Books (Austin, TX) – This place has exactly the sort of quirky charm you expect in Austin’s hip South Congress neighborhood. Pick out a used or vintage book here before heading to grab tacos at nearby Guero’s.
  10. Bookmarc (West Village, NYC) – Okay, okay, one more in New York. Bookmarc is a mainstay in the West Village to me and while it’s small it has a perfectly curated, highly fashionable offering that’s always worth stopping by to see. Plus, they carry Olympia Le Tan clutches (hand-embroidered small box clutches that look like famous book covers) which I will continue to swoon over until I can one day afford.

(pictured below: The Spotted Dog and Daunt)

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MY 10 YEAR NEW YORK CITY ANNIVERSARY

Today marks 10 years since I arrived in New York City. A decade of me and Manhattan (minus a brief fling I had with Los Angeles of course.. but doesn’t every New Yorker have that one winter that makes them consider rash things like leaving?).

I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love at first sight twice in my life. And the first time was at 17, the moment I stepped out of Penn Station into the glaring lights of Seventh Avenue. I grew up in Pennsylvania which is only a few hours away, but until my late teenage years all I knew of New York was the romanticized ideas I’d inhaled from classics like Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, my favorite shows (Sex & the City, Friends, Will & Grace and Seinfeld) and the glossy pages of Vogue. One look though and I was as good as gone. The same could be said for the second time I fell in love at first sight. But today’s not about him.

I arrived so absolutely bewitched by this city it seemed like the feeling would be impossible to sustain. But then, like true love, it has against all odds gotten better with time. Of course, like any true love we’ve also had some tough times. There were the early (and if we’re being honest, middle) years when I was barely making it. Years marked by cheap pizza and expensive rent for the shoebox sized apartment where I was eating it. The year marked by a painfully broken heart and the subsequent years marked by bad dates and my stubborn inability to turn down a tequila shot. All the times I’ve watched friends hit their breaking point with the city (you can see it coming if you know the signs) and move away. To Nashville.. or New Jersey. Anywhere that doesn’t seem quite as crushing as this place.

But then – I’ve always like the hard way. In fact, when I think of who I was when I arrived and the woman that I am now – I actually credit New York with softening me. With teaching me that it’s okay to cry. Publicly in fact. It’s okay to falter or flat out fail. This city is built on both sweeping success and fantastic failures all mixed up in one. Life goes on. You find your way back to your apartment, sleep it off and try again the next day. Like any good New Yorker would do.

And in spite of the trials, New York has offered the life that I spent my teenage years dreaming of. It’s confirmed the notion that hard work is rewarded. It’s insisted that being exactly who I am will be good enough to get me the things I want in life. It’s given me the kind of blissfully good days and adventure-filled nights that I thought could only ever possibly happen in the movies. It’s such a part of me that I can’t imagine my life anywhere else. It turns out, real love can last forever.

Here’s to the another 10, New York. I can’t wait to see where our story takes me next.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.