AK Monthly Recap: August 2015
Is it March that goes in like a lion and out like a lamb? Well, that was pretty much my August. It began with a bang, gallivanting in Riga before a wild sojourn through eastern Sicily. After slowing down a bit in Scotland and Iceland, I came home to Massachusetts and came to a stop.
Quite a few things happened this month: a family trip, my 31st birthday, and the single most challenging destination I’ve faced in years. Here is what went down in August.
Zafferana Etnea, Taormina, Aci Trezza, Mount Etna, Castanea delle Furie, Avola, Siracusa, and Ragusa, Sicily
Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, Iceland
Reading, Salisbury, Newburyport, and Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Siracusa. I fell madly in love with Ortigia, the island holding Siracusa’s old city. Being there with perfect light after a rain storm made it even better.
Riga. Great city, great food, super fun, and I’m floored that it isn’t more well known.
Aci Trezza. Chilled out, totally local, and unlike the other offbeat places we visited in Sicily, completely relaxing.
Edinburgh. It will always be one of my favorite cities in the world, and just being there fills me with joy.
Traveling with my family. I had a great time traveling over Europe with my mother and sister, tracing our family roots in Latvia, Sicily, and Scotland. It was definitely a time for bonding and seeing places we had always dreamed of.
Rocking out at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. One of my favorite festivals of all time, not to mention the festival where I felt the most comfortable being solo! So many performances all over the city, all for super-cheap. I could have stayed all month.
Having perfect photography conditions in Siracusa. That light. That sky. That just-after-thunderstorm look. I can’t wait to put together a full photo essay for you.
Taking Edna and Joe on a food crawl in Boston. Edna has already taken me to have the best food in Singapore and Paris, so I was thrilled to take her and her boyfriend out to eat at some of my favorite places in Boston! From Toro’s legendary corn to oyster shooters to cow tipper frappes with Guinness, we had a great day.
My first birthday on Snapchat! If you thought Facebook birthday wishes were nice, wait until you have a birthday on Snapchat! I received so many sweet, kind messages from readers with pictures, drawings, and even singing! I was so touched.
Meditating on Mount Etna. Maybe it was the power of the volcano, but I achieved a level of clarity I haven’t had in months.
A fun Edinburgh meetup. Edinburgh friends, blogger friends, and a few readers came for a night out in Edinburgh. Lots of fun!
Finding the perfect jewelry in Iceland. I rarely buy souvenirs, but if I do, it’s usually jewelry. After I fell in love with a pair of blue zircon and silver earrings and a ring, my mom got them for me for my birthday present.
Oh, that time my mom and I locked ourselves in a vestibule with a giant cockroach. Not kidding. Our place in Avola had a vestibule in between the apartment and the front door, and the inside door closed with the keys in it. We couldn’t get in; we couldn’t get out; during all this, a giant cockroach was running around. We had to call our poor host Giovanni to free us; thankfully, he was nearby and arrived in minutes!
Not being able to understand anyone in parts of Sicily. I speak Italian, and though I don’t speak it very well these days, I’ve always been able to get by and survive throughout Italy — until I got to Sicily. The touristy areas were easy, but in places like Castanea I couldn’t understand a word of their dialect and they couldn’t understand me!
It was horrible. Add that to the pressure of being the Official Family Translator and I was in tears at one point.
Driving in Sicily. Not for the faint-hearted, and one reason why I think Sicily would be a very difficult destination for a solo traveler. You need one person to line up the GPS with the actual roads because when it says to turn left, there are three lefts within ten feet of each other! Oh, and let’s not get started on the complete lack of stop signs in gridded cities, the fierce speeding and tailgating, and how people didn’t stop at red lights…
I got hurt. I’ve been running this month — more on that below — and just as I got into my ninth day, I hurt my leg. Shin splints. Very painful, but I’m mostly upset that they’ve derailed my fitness regime.
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Copenhagen in Photos — Part photo essay, part introspection in a very beautiful city.
The Genealogy Trip: Tracing Our Roots in Latvia, Sicily, and Scotland — An overview of my three-week family trip with takeaways and advice if you do your own.
News and Announcements
Since coming home, I’ve been making two big commitments in my non-travel life.
The first: improve my health. I started doing Couch 2 5K and was amazed that I was actually fulfilling the running requirements each day without failing, on top of doing bodyweight workouts, and it was going so well…
And then I got hurt. Shin splints. Which suck. I apparently did too much too fast.
So I’m still working on my health — taking it easy as my leg heals, occasionally taking a very slow walk around the block, but still continuing to eat right. I hope to meet some goals by the end of the year.
The second: organize my finances. I’ve been reading a lot about personal finance lately and realized how much better I could be organizing my finances as a 31-year-old. When you run your own business and have varying, often irregular payments coming in each month, it’s incredibly hard to stay organized and consistent. Especially when it takes time and money to get your business off the ground and you spend years on a shoestring trying to stay afloat before getting into a comfortable financial state.
Well, I am resolving to go from kind of a disaster to being the girl who maxes out her Roth IRA and 401k’s on top of that, even without the incentive of having a company match. Oh, and building an emergency fund that would sustain her for six months in New York City, being smarter about taxes, and all that incredibly sexy finance stuff (are you still awake?).
Finally, on top of those, I’ve decided to do Sober September. I won’t be drinking during the whole month. I was challenged by my bud Jeremy (you know how I love a challenge!) and now we’ve rallied up a motley crew of around 15 people who are doing the same thing.
Going sober for a month allows you to focus on yourself and reset your body. For me, I see it as an opportunity to improve my health, spend less money, learn how to socialize without that crutch, and know that drinking isn’t the end-all and be-all to social situations.
And…it’s good to know that you can stop if you want to.
Being sober in New York will be a bit tough, since I usually fill my trips there with cocktail get-togethers and boozy brunches, but I’m still looking forward to seeing my friends (and guzzling quite a bit of coffee and bone broth instead!).
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
This is a shot of my favorite street in Edinburgh: Victoria Street, which is home to a pork sandwich shop, one of my favorite Fringe venues, a great coffee shop, a lovely boutique, a chic distillery, and a cheese shop you can smell a mile away.
Not my favorite photo of the month, but hey, you never know what will do well on Instagram!
What I Read This Month
I’ve been plowing through book after book this month, thanks to mostly quick reads! I’m now 39 books into the 52-book 2015 Popsugar Book Challenge. This was the first month in which I dared to read a book that didn’t fulfill any categories!
Euphoria by Lily King — For my love triangle book, I wanted to read a GOOD romance — the kind that makes you close your eyes and savor it as your heart races. This was that kind of book. WHAT A ROMANCE. Loosely based on the life and memoirs of Margaret Mead, this tells the story of a prominent female anthropologist with her anthropologist husband as they live and research in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s, and the other male anthropologist who arrives and falls in love with her. (Thanks for the recommendation, Steph and Marie!) Category: a book with a love triangle.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver — I adore Barbara Kingsolver and years ago I started this book, one of her biggest hits — yet I never finished it. Well, I finally see what all the fuss is about — this book is magnificent. It tells the story of a missionary family that moves from Georgia to a small village in the Belgian Congo in 1959, just before the country erupts into independence. In many ways, their trip is a complete nightmare.
Leave it to Barbara Kingsolver to do the impossible. Each character has such a unique and distinctive voice, I can’t believe she kept them all straight. But even more impressively, the abusive preacher father is an abhorrent character, yet she creates incredible sympathy for why he is the way he is. Category: a book that you started but never finished.
How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff — This month, Lauren of Never-Ending Footsteps published her memoir, and I am so thrilled for her! Lauren is famed for her many disasters while traveling, and this book covers quite a few of them, like the time she sat next to a dead woman on her boat to Laos (!). She also writes about her struggles with anxiety and slowly breaks out of perhaps the most narrow and sheltered comfort zone I’ve ever known a backpacker to have (the girl had never eaten an egg or rice at age 23!). If she can learn to travel, you can, too. Category: a book written by someone under 30.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare — How on Earth is it possible that I got through four years of high school, four years of college as an English major, took a course on Shakespeare, played Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, represented my school at the Massachusetts Shakespeare Competition, and yet never read Hamlet? Don’t ask. Well, I finally did read it on the flight home from Iceland. It’s nice to finally understand all the Hamlet quotes and references in pop culture. Category: a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi — Well, my mind has officially been blown. I am completely reorganizing my finances for the better, and I’m so relieved that at age 31 I can still reap the benefits of investing aggressively. If you’re looking for a book about personal finance in your 20s and 30s, this is a good one — I love Ramit’s personality and I learned so much from him. Didn’t fulfill any category.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson — Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which tells the story of a girl named Ursula who is able to live our multiple versions of her life while surviving the Blitz during World War II, was one of my favorite reads two years ago. I was shocked and delighted to see that she wrote a companion novel about Ursula’s brother Teddy!
This book plays with time as well, though not in the same way as Life After Life, and its such a creative way of telling a story. The book focuses on Teddy’s time as an RAF pilot in World War II and how it affected his family and the rest of his life. At one point near the end, five words of dialogue sent me into sudden violent sobbing.
Even though it’s a companion piece to Life After Life, I feel like it’s more of a companion piece to another book I read this year: Unbroken. While one is a true story and the other is fiction, both books explore what the horrors of war do to good men, particularly when they are commissioned to kill as fighter pilots. Category: A book that made you cry.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury — I’ll file this one under books that I appreciate more than I like. Definitely one of my egregious reading oversights, and while I appreciate the book’s dystopian view of the future (obviously being a reflection of the present when it was written, in the 1950s), I didn’t fall in love with it. But that’s okay. Perhaps it’s better to appreciate it. Category: a book with a number in the title.
What I’m Listening To This Month
Sea Dance may be long over, but I’m still listening to my favorite artists from the festival — Flight Facilities, Doorly (my favorite artist for running!), TCTS, Odesza. Beyond that, here are a few more songs I’m loving lately:
Never Say Never by Basement Jaxx
This is my FAVORITE kind of dance song — the kind that hits me straight in the feels, like everything from Sea Dance. Seriously, I don’t know what that festival did to me. I’m not the same.
Omen by Disclosure and Sam Smith
Probably my favorite new song of the month. Love Disclosure, love Sam Smith (particularly when he’s doing less-sappier songs), love them together.
Coming Up in September 2015
It’s a stateside month before I gear up for a crazy fall! I’ll be spending the first two thirds of the month at home in the Boston area and the end of the month in New York.
I’ll be using this time to catch up on writing many Europe posts from this summer. There are so many cool places I need to tell you about!