#7 New York, NY (Aug 2012)

brooklyn insta

When I left for New York City I was riding the highs of a giving zero f*cks phase. This was near the end of a satisfying summer, what felt like months of hanging out.  As these trips stack up it’s very apparent the time and place they fall within my year, and this was perfect timing; not interfering with a transition or any commitments [see: giving zero f*cks]. I’ve always been pretty lukewarm about NYC [crowded, unfamiliar, overwhelming…]. Although I’d been a handful of times before I still don’t really go for the city.

Last summer [2011] my close friend Mike returned home to Chicago after completing his master’s degree at UPenn. He lived in the city with his former Philadelphia roommate Matt who moved to Chicago for a summer internship. Along with my current roommate Liz, we celebrated many Sunday-Fun-Days; a routine of pizza & a movie [no matter how terrible…]. Unfortunately the summer came to an end. Matt returned to Philadelphia. Mike moved to NYC for a new job opportunity and to be closer to Aya [his lovely girlfriend, a dear friend and all-around sweetheart]. This trip would reunite three of us for the first time in months…

I arrived at Mike’s apartment in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn around 11pm on Friday night with a dead phone and an address sans apartment number written on a loose piece of paper floating somewhere in my backpack. The building showed no indication of which apartment was his, so I started buzzing each resident. Apparently there’s a young guy on third floor who will let anybody in after an ambiguous and feminine “Hey”. Fortunately after a brief and unsuccessful investigation, Matt [friend by way of Mike] entered the building with an entourage of UPenn grads. Worlds collided: NY, Philly & Chicago. Everyone was introduced and I started putting faces to names from many of Mike’s stories.

Though off to a late start, the evening was plenty full. The diverse group played catch up and got familiar while eating mac and cheese at Putnam’s Pub. Putnam’s is a hip, somewhat intimate neighborhood bar, probably less suited for the noise of our large group.  After a handful of hours it seemed as if everyone was friends from the very beginning. From there, the crew continued to hang back at the apartment. People started to fall off one by one, retreating to their bedrooms or passing out on the couch until there were only a few of us left. Though I love and enjoy the comfort of my friends in Chicago, it’s easy to get lost in your usual social group. It was particularly satisfying to connect with strangers [friends of friends] and stand alone for a weekend.

The next day was hot, and the following even hotter. On Saturday, Michael, Aya and I trekked to Manhattan to walk around, more specifically to walk the High Line [“a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side”]. We walked. We snacked. We walked some more. By the evening, we were all exhausted with just enough energy for a sizable dinner back in Brooklyn followed by drinks in familiar locations. On Sunday we took a hint from the heat and caravanned to Fort Tilden Beach in Queens. As it was on somewhat of a whim we had minimal supplies…and I applied minimal sunscreen.  After 25 years, I should know better. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in the ocean, or when I’ll manage to get back. I reverted to my childhood as we surfed waves [the ocean still much larger than us…], played catch, snacked and lounged for hours.

We squeezed in what should have been a quick seaside meal before rushing back to Mike’s apartment. I showered quickly, attempting [and failing] to remove my fresh layer of sand before saying brief goodbyes. Arriving at the airport just in time, I boarded the plane bleach blonde and tomato red. This was my most comfortable trip to NYC. Perhaps the least overwhelming because it was my 4th time visiting, because I’m older, because of the company…I left looking forward to the next time I visit. As always, returning to Chicago everything picked up right where it left off.

#8 Nashville, TN (Sept 2012)

Long overdue…

I couldn’t tell you the last time I slept a full night through…Yet on a recent trip to Nashville, I somehow managed to secure a solid 8 hours curled up in the back seat of my friend’s Toyota Carolla. I fell asleep after we stocked up on gas and snacks in a Chicago suburb late Thursday night only to poke my head up into a cloud of smoke as we approached the outskirts of Nashville early Friday morning. I would be outnumbered this weekend, the only non-smoker. The company was worth it. Kiel drove through the night and Branden joined him in solidarity. Though this is standard for them, they’re known for all-nighters [I was outnumbered in this regard too…].

Our friends and hosts, Haley and Brian, lived on the southwest side of town. They just moved from Iowa City [with a similar aesthetic to Nashville…] so that Brian could attend Belmont University. Haley, an elementary teacher, was at work as we showed up between 8 and 9 in the morning but Brian was ready to go [not entirely alert, but definitely still ready to go]. It was gorgeous outside. We walked to the Pancake Pantry near campus; the first of many meals…Our momentum was reasonably slow, but we continued to consume cup after cup of coffee as we familiarized ourselves with a few of the shops on 12th Avenue. This included Imogene + Willie, a high-end denim shop that Branden frequents online with a very friendly staff…very Branden.

It wasn’t long before we needed a break, the guys especially. We spent a fair amount of time lounging throughout the weekend and quickly adopted a routine; eat, nap, TV, eat, TV, party, sleep, repeat. We re-energized while watching The Voice & Shark Tank [which influenced many jokes throughout the weekend]. I will say this, come to Nashville with your appetite. We pulled ourselves together for dinner at Monell’s, a family style restaurant set in a historic ornate home to enhance to the southern dining experience. The house was filled with large dining tables of mixed groups passing the fixins; ribs, fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, fried okra, greens, biscuits and gravy, pudding, sweet tea…We gorged ourselves in preparation for a long night.

That evening we took a cab to Santa’s Pub, a karaoke dive bar that existed isolated from any neighborhood. As a Christmas fanatic, I was sold on just the name. The cab pulled into a gravel lot in front of three consolidated trailers decorated with Christmas themed graffiti [quite the juxtaposition, as the place would have looked pretty sketch otherwise…]. Inside is lined with wood panels and Christmas lights, most of them surrounding a small stage with a few additional decorations and microphones.  An old man with a full white beard was exclusively serving beer in the back. He wasn’t particularly jolly, but fit the aesthetic. Patrons could smoke inside, something Chicago banned years ago…I generally avoid beer and smoke but I enjoyed myself immensely.  Brian, a musician, was the only one of the group to sing. Not every performer deserved a Grammy [as if they ever do], but we heard a few impressive singers that night. Inspired by the hours we committed to The Voice, we hit the tops of our beer cans and bottles as various locals performed to acknowledge the very talented. We joined in song with the novices who stuck to crowd pleasers; Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Weezer

A seasoned and modest duo finished out the night by covering June Carter and Johnny Cash. They were obviously regulars and possibly not even practicing musicians.  As the bar closed everyone migrated to the large front patio waiting for their respective taxis. Unlike Chicago, this task took a little more effort [in the form of a phone call]. While waiting, we introduced ourselves to other bar goers including a few Midwest transplants. Everyone was friendly. Nashville strikes the mix of Midwest Values and Southern Hospitality. I’m not sure what time it was when we got home [“late”]. However, I am certain that I was first to go to sleep as everyone else likely stayed up for a few more drinks.

Exhaustion may have caught up to everyone else on Saturday, but the pattern continued; eat, relax, eat, party, sleep. Not sick of fried foods just yet…we drove out of town for more southern cooking at the famous Loveless Cafe.  A few hours later our evening started on Lower Broadway Street in the heart of Nashville. We walked the neon-lit strip before stopping into a honky-tonk to witness another breed of local music. These talented musicians likely don’t get the recognition they deserve, though I don’t think that’s why play. This is their world, they are appreciated in Nashville.

Soon after we drove to East Nashville, an area I anticipated being most like Chicago from what I heard [populated with hipsters…]. There was a noticeable young crowd, a few hip establishments, but it was still greatly residential.  The first stop was Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, nuff said. Second, we joined Haley’s friends, Kendra and Brad, who were kind enough to host us at their house for a few beers. They then led us to “five points” where bars and restaurants lined the intersection of three streets. At random, the group stopped into a local pizza place for a late dinner. There was nothing particularly special about the joint, but one of the bartenders looked incredibly familiar. Because he was! Apparently a high school friend of mine moved to Nashville within the year and was currently working at the pizza place to make-do. Need I say it? Small world. Afterwards we walked around a bit more, until giving into our [my] exhaustion and calling it an early night [relative to the previous…].

On Sunday, Kiel, Branden and I gathered our remaining energy for the drive home. I stayed awake this time, enjoying much of what I missed on the way down [scenery and conversation]. We stopped for food on multiple occasions; an appropriate end to a gluttonous weekend…This trip stands out as one of my favorites; equal parts lounge and party. I know you can watch TV anywhere, but sometimes it’s not what you’re watching but who you’re watching with [and how funny they are]. We managed to cover a lot of ground too. Our days had more hours with this crew. As always, the LOLs built on themselves in good [full, tired and goofy] company.

A year later…

I’ve been slowly working on a coffee table book of the #2012Trips blog. The internet is great and all, but I want something to hold onto [ya know, after the digital apocalypse]. It’s been fun revisiting old posts and revising the abandoned drafts of my trips to NY and Nashville [with the much needed help of my editor, J. Hothan]. I hope to share them soon! In the meantime, here’s a preview of what I’ve been working on…

[#2 LA]


[#3 Iowa City]


[#4 Boston]


boston 2

[#5 Gatlinburg]

tn 1 tn photos


Hello all! Sadly the blog has been a little static as of late. I only have neglected Google Docs [and memories] for my more recent trips to NYC and Nashville…However(!), I am happy to share [and hopefully be inspired to complete my own drafts by] Aren’s semi-recent trip throughout Oregon:

Conveying what happened on this adventure in any combination of words, pictures, and videos would be impossible. The only one to be there for the whole thing was me, but I will do my best to paraphrase and lend an idea of the vibe.

“The flight from Chicago to Portland will be 4 hours and 20 minutes long. I repeat the flight will be 4 hours and 20 minutes long. That’s 4 hours. 20 minutes. We’ll ask you again later how long it took…” 45 minutes into the flight the man next to me asks if I would switch my window seat with his wife sitting two rows up in the middle seat. Told him we were both in luck because I came out here for some good karma. Sat next to a 60 year old recent divorcee who was starting her life over and a 40 year old steel mill contractor who worked too much to really even have one. We were all so different but open to talking, which was good enough to pass the time. Continue reading

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snax on snax on snax

Let’s face it, you’d be a fool to travel without something to munch on:


View from the medieval castle in Ourem, Portugal

By, Alexis:

Shortly after the plane took off in Madrid for Lisbon, the late 20s-something guy that was sitting next to me made a comment about the book I was carrying in my backpack. It was a Haruki Murakami novel called The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, a book I have been holding onto for nearly 2 months, on loan from the former boyfriend. The plane guy was clearly practicing an intellectual pickup line, but I didn’t catch on until it was too late (note to self: always have your game face on). He said it was one of his favorites and the perfect book for traveling. I sheepishly admitted I hadn’t opened it yet (but agreed that Murakami was a genius–I was a post-modern English major after all). Despite my inability to hold a conversation with someone who seemed like a normal, literate, attractive person (seriously, any dude who reads is a total babe), his attempt was all I needed to rally the courage to start the 600 page book. After 9 days, I’m already 400 pages in. I guess he was right.

And for the record, I’m not planning on returning the book when I’m done.

If you’re not familiar, the novel chronicles a very lost 30-something year old man living in Tokyo whose wife suddenly leaves him. There is a scene in which he recalls a night with a former pseudo lover, who, during a night in which they spend together, asks him to hold her, in order to “recharge her batteries.” I think I was asking Portugal to do the same thing. >>>>>

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Leaving for Lisbon

All, meet my friend, travel enthusiast and now 2012trips contributor, Alexis:

Today, I leave for Portugal. The final destination will be a small village about an hour northeast of Lisbon. I don’t even know its name.

Which seems fitting for this trip. I have been planning it for nearly 1.5 years now, ever since my friend Eulalie (pronounced eu-la-lee…it’s a Spanish name, but she’s French-Portugese) visited me in Chicago. When saying goodbye to her, I vowed that I would see her again at her family’s vacation home in Portugal. And two years later, I’ve kept my promise. Which happens very rarely.

The feelings I have about leaving Chicago for a week are consuming me more than the feelings I have about being in foreign country for a week. I’m excited, relieved, scared, happy, and upset (ok, this can also be classified as “confused”) about leaving things behind. The past 30 days of my life have been about reconciling: emotions, thoughts, intentions, and goals both personally and professionally. I had a relationship end that I was certain would last forever (and I may have sworn off dating for eternity in the meantime), I’ve decided to commit to a job and a career that I thought would have ended by now (haven’t they figured out what a scam I am?), and I’m making a true, clear effort on building goals that are focused on me and my abilities (and not what someone can give me), while also learning to be content with the present.

A friend from work calls Lisbon one of his top 5 “start your life over cities.” While I don’t necessarily want to start my life over (23 years of character-development would be a hard thing to replicate), I am looking forward to having a week to meditate, fill my head and belly, and be surrounded by beauty, both in nature and in life. How amazing it is to have found a soul mate (that’s Eulalie who I mentioned above) during a study abroad trip your Junior year of college (her family hosted me for 6 weeks while I was in France) and be able to foster that relationship for a lifetime. Our friendship is the primary reason for the trip; all the other stuff comes second.

Thanks for reading and thanks to Ashley for inviting me to post about my travels (both internally and externally). I look forward to writing a post in a week re-capping all of the adventures I discover, which I hope includes all of the below:

5 things I most excited about for the week ahead of me:

1. Linguica, chorizo, and vino verde
2. Sintra’s Moorish castle
3. Going to the airport (I love the airport!)
4. Swimming pools surrounded by olive trees
5. Seeing the Atlantic for the 5th time in my life

Tchau Alexis!



Obviously a classic.
Less about literal travels, but still entirely applicable [and totally universal]. Also John Lithgow is da sh*t.

P.S. I’m off to NYC in two weeks, can’t wait.


#6 Murphysboro, IL

Congratulations Jared and Hayley!

Iowa’s Best Kept Secret

Aren here, back to write about one of my recent conquests: canoeing the Upper Iowa River!

Gonna take this opportunity to drop some knowledge on your heads about the trials and tribulations of an experienced trip planner like myself, so take some advil cuz this knowledge will make your brain swell, but it’s also power, so take some protein supplements as well.

Ok, before I get into how ridiculously scenic Northeast Iowa is, I wanted to talk about all of the effort that goes into making a daydream a reality. It takes a couple movers and shakers to get the ball rolling. If you’ve seen me at The Double Door on a Friday night, you know I can shake. [Enough analogies for you?] So here’s the thing, I came up with an idea for a great way to spend our 3-day Memorial Weekend; canoeing and camping on an amazing river [a trip that I had done twice in college, but for only one night each time], and then what’s next?

Welp, time to populate the canoes with people! If Ashley hasn’t alluded to how many friends we have, I will, we have a lot. And I can’t take 25 people everywhere every time I want to do something. This is the planner’s dilemma; am I going to break my back and sacrifice my baby over a few hurt feelings? Where’s the line? Well having done this many times over and to my friends reading this: its simple, show me that you want to go!

If you are excited and willing, then step up and I will enlist you to Aren’s Travel Army. So here’s my advice to those with trips in mind: save the headache and only bring people who will smile rain or shine, who will volunteer their car, who offer to buy supplies beforehand, and maybe one or two lazy ass friends that just make everyone laugh because morale has some value too.

I was excited about our crew for this trip being that we had a few first time campers who were literally about to get their feet very wet and I knew they would all appreciate the gem that is Northeast Iowa. All-in there were 11 of us. That’s 5 canoes, 1 kayak, 4 tents, 4 coolers, various tarps, water jugs, headlamps, snacks, meals, booze, and everything else you need to stay comfortably alive for 2.5 days. The food doesn’t buy itself and the canoes don’t pack and unpack themselves. My pop-up tent is about the closest thing to a self-erecting tent you can find, but even so, all this requires a nice checklist and a lot of volunteers. After my infamous persistent nagging about adding to our Google Spreadsheet, the gang seemed to get things in order. Trip planners, though sometimes you may think you’re just the guy/gal that wants to make something happen, be warned you are now a “leader”.

Things generally work out, but occasionally you need to crack the whip, “Is everyone done eating? Ok, let’s pack up the food. Are the canoes all the way out of the water? Ok, let set up the tents. Fire committee get that thing blazing…” I can’t accurately describe the amount of group decisions we had to make when it came to things like starting late, pressing on, picking a camp spot, and when to call it quits.

I’ve described something that sounds frustrating and unmotivational. Well, at times, it is, but was it worth it? Absolutely. We did start late, but ended up missing the rain. We got too much sun, dragged our paddles, exchanged many smiles, and shared 26.7 miles of beautiful river [mapped here] in and out of conversation with our canoe buddies; swaying between a contemplative admiration of the bluffs ahead and laughing about the pending outdoor bowel movement we may face as well.

We took our time, it was important not to rush, that would have defeated the purpose. When we fell about 5 miles short of the goal, it didn’t matter, they picked us up at a bridge and we were content. We forded the river between [the never properly pronounced] Hruska’s and Randy’s campgrounds with multiple cases of Miller Lite. We [I] caught a few fish. We learned [sort of] how to canoe, “Are we going to the right or left of that tree? Left. Are we going to hit it? Nah. Wait. Yes. Ok. Yeah, going right at it! Hold on! $*#%! We’re stuck. Guys watch out for that….!”, wash, rinse, and repeat. We bathed in the river and sun and argued with cows who held the rights to some very desirable campgrounds. We got pretty good at setting up and taking down our basecamp in a reasonable time. We forgot about life outside of the river, if only for a few moments.

We left tired, but not broken, with a sense of pride and accomplishment and confidence to try it again and challenge our comforts with the great unknown [at least I did].

So if you’re ever stuck in the Midwest thinking about how flat and boring it is, I know a place where you will say over and over, “I can’t believe we are in Iowa!If there is any point, it’s this: I always say that it’s easier to stay at home than go, excuses are like [expletive deleted], everyone’s got one. And don’t wait for me to plan your trip for you and don’t feel bad when someone else can’t go, JUST GO. You will never regret it! And on the drive home you may be as fortunate as Eddie, Chris, and I to say, “Dude, check out that rainbow! We are going to drive straight through it. We’re driving through it. We’re driving on it! We’re literally driving ON A RAINBOW…”

– Aren

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