vacation

Which Passport Stamp Are You Most Proud Of?

 

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Speaking of Budget Travel, the site just published another slideshow that got me thinking. The editors asked readers which passport stamp they were most proud of and compiled their answers into a slideshow. Looking through the responses was fascinating–and it gave me travel envy! People had been to Burma, Tunisia, Cuba, Nepal…even Pyongyang!

While reading the slideshow, I debated which of my passport stamps I was most proud of. My China visa has a special place in my heart. Both of my parents were born in NYC, but all my grandparents are from China. I’d always dreamed of going there, and was thrilled when I finally had the chance to visit Beijing and Shenzhen, three years ago. (Plus, I had a hard time getting that visa. I foolishly listed my occupation as a writer and I had to convince–beg–the visa office that I wouldn’t write anything bad about the country before they granted me one.)

I also love my Bolivia stamp for a few reasons. Before spending two weeks there in 2010, I really worked to learn basic Spanish phrases. English isn’t widely spoken there and I was sick of feeling like a dumb American in Latin America. (Previously, I’d bumbled my way through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.) But by the time I got to Bolivia, I felt comfortable ordering in restaurants, bargaining in markets and taking micros (passenger vans) by myself. Also: the Salar de Uuyni and Bolivia’s southwestern deserts are among the most gorgeous, surreal places I’ve ever seen.

But I finally decided that I’m most proud of my Australia visa from 2003. I went to the Land Down Under as a 20-year-old college senior. It was my first time out of the country and, to this day, I’m amazed I had the balls to do that. I went from dorming with my best friends and never being farther than a few hours from my family to living halfway around the world where I knew no one. While in Australia, I experienced things completely foreign to me–like camping in the Outback, seeing stars, hiking canyons, sailing and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. (Reminder: I grew up in Queens.) That trip also instilled a deep wanderlust in me–which I clearly haven’t shaken!

What’s your favorite passport stamp?

(Image via Pinterest)

Off to MD!

beach

Surprise, right? I’m sure you knew I’d be heading to the beachВ this weekend. How could I not? I spent July 4th in the city and realized that it was my first time doing so in years. I had a very nice NYC holiday. I went to ballet and brunch and even managed to catch some fireworks–I just walked across the street to the Hudson. Though I was too far north to see the Macy’s show, I saw a few displays from different NJ towns. (One perk of living way uptown.) But now I’m craving a quick escape from the city, so I’m taking an early morning train to Mal and Peter’s. (I think we’ll skip Seacrets, this time.)

Stay cool this weekend–it’s supposed to be 100 degrees on the east coast! And enjoy these links:

Yiiiiiiiiiikes! All of San Diego’s fireworks went off at once!

Do you live in a city? Hmm, let’s find out.

Awesome: an ode to Cooper Nielson (really ABT’s Ethan Stiefel) and Center Stage (the best worst movie, ever)–at NewYorker.com

10 cool, small kitchens (I actually think my kitchen is even smaller than all of them)

Seacrets

seacrets

If I were to put Seacrets on NY Mag‘s Approval Matrix, it would be all the way in bottom right corner: It’s extremely lowbrow. But also brilliant.

Seacrets is a “Jamaican”-style beach bar in Ocean City, MD. It reminds me a bit of Rick’s Cafe in Negril, plus Rehab in Vegas–but way higher on the ridiculous and skeevy scales. The main draw is that it’s spring break for adults. You can sit and drink in giant, multi-person floats or semi-submerged tables and stools, or just dance right in the middle of the bay. On a hot summer day, that’s a pretty enticing option. And that’s why the place is always hopping, mostlyВ with 20- and 30-somethings downing cheap drinks, but also with older folks who just want to cool off–and quaff cheap drinks, too. (The margaritas are just $4.50, if you can believe. And yes, you kind of need a drink or two before going into the water so you’re not thinking about how gross it must be.)

seacrets

Since it was sibling/ridiculousness weekend, Mal, Peter, Paul and I spent, um, a good chunk of Saturday there, chillin’ on the dock, then the floats. It was super hot, so it was the perfect way to spend the day–and check off another item on my MD bucket list!

heather and mal

peter, heather, mal, paul

В What’s you favorite summer beach bar?

Smith Island Cake

Red Velvet Smith Island Cake

I’d been wanting to have a slice of Smith Island cake since I first read about it in the NY Times about a year ago. Mal and Peter had recently moved to Maryland and I was seeking interesting things to do in the area. Not surprisingly, much of my research revolved around local food and drinks, and this cake intrigued me.

Smith Island cake is Maryland’s official state dessert. It’s constructed from six to 12 super-thin layers of cake and just as many layers of icing. The cake is “native” to tiny Smith Island, which measures just eight by 12 miles,В the only inhabited island in the Chesapeake. No one knows who created the confection–some say it was born from a torte recipe Welsh settlers brought to the island in the 1600s. But it’s beloved there and across Maryland’s eastern shore.

And after having a few slices this weekend, I can understand why.

We didn’t have time to go to Smith Island, so one of my sister’s co-workers recommended that we pick up the dessert from the Original Smith Island Cake Company, located in West Ocean City. We purchased two mini cakes: one red velvet, one original.

Smith Island Cakes

We had the red velvet cake as part of our breakfast on Sunday. (I mean, what else would you eat when you’re spending the day in a bikini?) I knew the cake would have many layers, but I was still amazed at just how thin they were. Mal and I ate our slices layer by layer; I thought the cake was really good, but wanted the frosting to have more of a cream cheese tang.

red velvet Smith Island cake

Later, after our day at the beach, we cut into the second cake, which was golden cake with chocolate frosting. That slice wowed me–the chocolate frosting was so rich andВ fudgy. Since myВ opportunitiesВ to have Smith Island cake are limited, we may get another one this weekend. We’re thinking of trying the strawberry shortcake…

original smith island cake

Off for a Chillaxin’ Weekend!

chillax

I’m super-excited to be heading to the Maryland shore this weekend. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been feeling a little fried and in need of some lazy beach time. And it’s been so freaking hot in NYC!В It’ll be a relief to cool off amid the waves. Plus, my best friend is joining us and giving me (a non-driver) a much-appreciated ride. She wants to tick off my entire Maryland bucket list, but I’m not so sure that’s going to happen in one weekend. рџ™‚

Here are some links I’m loving this week. Stay cool!

Grilled fruit cocktails? Yes, please!

The perfect summer cookout playlists

4 themed road trips from NYC

The world in superlatives

Cat nail art!

11 avocado sandwichesВ (I’ve been on an avocado kick and eating 1/day for weeks now!)

East Nashville’s food scene (I ate my way through that city on a weekend trip, a few years ago–and I can vouch for the paletas being the perfect summer treat!)

Strange and Beautiful Beaches

It’s grey and rainy in NYC today. And after a great weekend of running and basking in fabulous weather (more about that later this week!), I’m dreaming of sunny days at the beach.

So it’s quite appropriate (and a bit of a tease!) that a slideshow I wrote for TravelandLeisure.com came out today. It’s a round-up of the world’s strangest and most beautiful beaches. I had a great time writing the piece and a hard time choosing which beaches to include–I’m always amazed at how many natural wonders exist. Check out some of the gorgeous photos below and read the full story here.

Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Thunder Cove, Prince Edward Island

Zlatni Rat Beach, Brac Island, Croatia

Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii

What’s the strangest and most beautiful beach you’ve ever visited? I’d have to say mine is Punalu’u Beach (photo above) on Hawaii’s Big Island. The sand really is jet black and I saw several giant sea turtles!

(All photos via TravelandLeisure.com)

First Crabs of the Season

I had such a nice weekend in Maryland with my favorite people. As I’d guessed, it was too chilly to go to the beach (will summer please start, already?) but we did manage to indulge in our second favorite Maryland activity:

Maryland’s blue crab season runs from April through October. The best crabs are, admittedly, in September and October, after the crustaceans have had months to grow and fatten up. But the first crabs of year are always fantastic, too–I think that’s partially due to anticipating them for six months!

Last year, we tried out a number of crab joints along the Atlantic coast and unanimously decided that the best blue crabs are not in Maryland, but in Delaware. They’re at the Blue Crab in Bethany Beach. We stumbled upon the restaurant about a year ago, on another chilly, pre-summer day. Little did we know that it would become our favorite crab place in the region. The crabs are always fresh and meaty and the hush puppies are amazing.

As usual, Peter and I got the All You Can Eat blue crabs and Mal opted for snow crab. As we eagerly awaited our meals, we readied our tools…

…and tried not to eat all the hush puppies and fried chicken they bring out first in an attempt to fill you up.

Finally, the main event arrived!

It’s funny; eating crab is like riding a bicycle–it takes a minute to remember how to do it, after it’s been a while. But once we did, we were cleanly breaking those guys apart, effortlessly extracting big chunks of meat and savoring the meal for a good hour or so.