Three Before Thirty

Cotton candy clouds

June 20th, just a few days ago, was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in this hemisphere. The sun stayed out until after 9:30, and Fitz and I sat on our front stoop watching the sky change from blue to golden to pink to the color of a fading bruise before ducking back inside. When I was younger, my dad and I would pack a picnic and head to the West River Drive, savoring the late light. Fitzgerald said it best, through Daisy in “The Great Gatsby”: “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.” I didn’t miss it this year.

June 20th was the longest day of the year, and also exactly six months until my 30th birthday. It was hard for me to miss the irony that the last six months of my 20s began on a day after which every subsequent day would be a little bit shorter, a little bit darker. It’s rather poetic, my slow descent into my 30s being marked by a day after which literally everything goes downhill. The countdown to this December 20th seems more menacing than in years past, and in looking for a source on which to pin blame, I uncovered a universal conspiracy designed to drive home the fact that turning 30 is ominous. Because in case I needed further convincing of just how serious and scary 30 is, every day the sun will set earlier and earlier as I inch closer and closer to not-20 until the big day arrives and it is the shortest, darkest day of the year.

Of course, this could all be a coincidence. How likely is it that the sun has a personal stake in assuring I am adequately terrified of my impending birthday? (Answer: very, I’ve done nothing but speak ill of the sun my entire life and have taken great pains to avoid its rays at all costs, and just had my first laser cosmetic procedure last week to remove some hideous freckles, I shit you not). Perhaps I’m being dramatic; it’s been known to happen. It all just seems so conveniently timed, you know? The universe is sending me a message loud and clear, and I GOT IT, I HEAR YOU.

I’ve channeled all this doom & gloom into a bucket list, of sorts. I looked at my life and realized there were things I wanted, things I needed to accomplish before I turn 30, and I’m going to use these last six months to do it. Not because I legitimately believe I’m like Cinderella at the ball and I’m going to turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight on December 20th, but because there are things that I always thought I would have figured out by the time I left my 20s.

Herewith, my top three before thirty:

1. Finish my novel
2. Go to Paris
3. Find a job that makes me happy

I could’ve picked thirty things, for symmetry’s sake, things like “take French classes again,” and “workout twice a week,” and “grow boobs finally,” but I didn’t want my main focuses to be diluted amongst 27 other, less important goals. These three represent the entirety of my hopes and dreams to close out this decade. I want to celebrate this milestone birthday knowing I accomplished writing a novel. And of course, if I have to turn 30, I might as well do it in Paris, non? Finding a job that makes me happy (and that also pays decently) may be a bit of a challenge, but I’m really going to give it my best shot. Because 30 means I’m an adult, and adults have their lives and careers together. Don’t they?

Wish me luck!

Beware of All Enterprises That Require New Clothes


I wasn’t born with endorphins.

The exhilarating rush people describe experiencing during or after a work-out, that “natural high” everyone else seems to enjoy from making themselves sweat, from pushing their bodies to the limit, is a completely foreign concept to me. I have never –not once, not ever, not even in high school gym class or all the years I danced ballet and took classes four times a week– felt good after exerting any physical energy. I kept waiting for it, thinking that like so many muscle memories, it was a learned sensation that would come with time, or a different work-out, or something. I’ve tried running, yoga, an hour of cardio followed by a weight machine circuit (four or five times a week, back when I was unemployed right after college), cardio followed by yoga, pilates, pilates before cardio, but have finally just accepted the fact that I am a lazy sack of bones for whom endorphins are just not on the genetic menu. I have never enjoyed working out.

And for most of my life, this wasn’t a problem. Blessed as I was with a magnificent metabolism and two tall and skinny parents, nothing stuck to me for the longest time. When I graduated high school, I was under 100lbs –skinny, yes, but proportionate to my bone structure and a lingering benefit from all that ballet. And then, somewhere around the age of 23, everything started sticking to me, including things I wasn’t even eating; I could smell someone else eating a hamburger and somehow it would manifest on my thighs. Gone were the days where I could eat two breakfasts, down an entire order of wings for dinner followed by a sleeve of oreos, and still somehow fit into a 00 waistband at Delia’s (omg does anyone else remember that store??). A few years ago, I started really watching what I was eating, knowing that since I hated working out and all but refused to break a sweat, I had to find a balance in what I was putting in my body. That worked, for a while.

But did I mention I am lazy? Do I need to say that a sheet cake tastes better than a kale salad? That I’d rather eat a jar of frosting with a spoon for dinner than literally anything else? Old habits die hard, and I inevitably slipped up. For the last year. And underneath all my gluttony, my abject hatred of exercise persisted. I basically thought, and still think, that people who rave about feeling excellent and invigorated after a work-out are huge liars. There is no way anyone leaves the gym feeling good or frankly anything other than like a giant pile of floppy pool noodles that’s been set on fire. Right?!

But, guys, I’m six months away from 30, and if that isn’t enough of a motivator to get into the best shape I can be before it all goes to shit I don’t know what is. If my body doesn’t bounce back from a weekend of binge eating cupcakes and snarfing down nachos at 29 the way it did at 19, what the hell do I expect at 39?

SO. Despite being endorphinally challenged, I dropped a ton of money on exercise leggings and grippy socks and sports bras and sneakers and a membership to Pure Barre, all the while repeating that famous Thoreau line from “Walden”: “Beware of all enterprisest hat requrie new clothes.” I took my first class last Thursday, and it was legitimately precious to picture my confidence before setting foot in the studio. “I danced ballet for 14 years, how hard can this be?” The sweet, gorgeously fit girl who signed me up was also the instructor for my first class, and let me tell you, I liked her a lot less once she donned her headset and was barking instructions at me for 55 sweaty, shaky minutes. I couldn’t do half of the stuff she was asking. Unsurprisingly, I am woefully out of shape! I looked at myself in the mirror at one point, and looked like someone had slathered me in Crisco. “Girls don’t sweat, they glisten,” is a load of bollocks spoken by someone who has never taken a barre class before.

But then, the oddest thing happened. I got home, and managed to clean myself up despite not being able to use any of my limbs, and I wanted to try again. I wanted to go back and do better than I had the first class. I wanted to be able to look back in a month and realize I’d made progress. Don’t misunderstand me, in no way did I feel good. My missing endorphins didn’t make a surprise appearance and make me feel blissful and alive; I felt like death had run me over in a steam roller. But I still wanted to go back! So I’m heading to my second class this morning, and I’m hoping I don’t need help crawling into my house because Jamal left yesterday for a business trip, and Fitz is only interested in licking the sweat off my forehead and shins.

Wish me luck!

Vacation Photos Spain: Barcelona, pt. 3

Mercado de La Boqueria

Fresh Fruit Juices, Mercado de La Boqueria

Marzipan! Mercado de La Boqueria

Marzipan! Mercado de La Boqueria

Mercado de La Boqueria

Carrer de Colom

Sneaking In

El Palace Hotel

Architecture, l'Eixample

Reading in the Sun

Waiting Puppy

Restaurant Window, Gràcia

Waiting Bike

Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia

Afternoon Stroll

Hotel Casa Fuster


Every city has that one neighborhood for me: Paris has Montmartre, Rome has Trastevere, and Barcelona, as we happily discovered, has Gràcia. An authentic, charming, local’s-only neighborhood, nestled above l’Eixample, Gràcia extends as far north as Park Güell, but the pocket we fell in love with is between Avenue Diagonal and Travessera de Dalt. We felt the same way walking around Gràcia as we did the very first time we visited Montmartre years ago: we could absolutely live here. Finding Gràcia was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip for us, more than any of the attractions we bought tickets for, or the restaurants that were highly-rated online. Just walking around and falling in love with the neighborhood, its locals, its shops and restaurants, its slightly shabby architecture, made both of us wish we could move right in and never leave.

But we had to leave, at some point, because life is super unfair all good things must come to an end. Or something. I don’t like to talk about politics much around here, I do enough of that in real life off-line, but the upcoming presidential election might very well provide an ideal opportunity to get the fuck out of America for a few years. And I know exactly where we’ll land. Mostly because I didn’t get to actually eat any of those magical marzipan creations at La Boqueria, and I need to know if they taste as good as they look.

And thus concludes the vacation photos from our trip to Spain. Thank you so much for tolerating me these last few weeks! Now back to our regularly scheduled, not-Spain content. Boo.

Vacation Photos Spain: Barcelona, pt. 2

Morning, El Poblenou

Niños, El Poblenou

Rambla del Poblenou

Teatre Coliseum

Bar Bas

Park Güell

Park Güell

Park Güell

Park Güell

Carrer de Mallorca

Cocktails, Why Not Bar

Breakfast, Café Zurich

Out for a stroll, Les Rambles


Pastelería Escribá

Did I mentioned we loved Barcelona? The weather was glorious, all sunny skies and crisp morning breezes; there was only one afternoon where temperatures rose into the 70s, and it coincided with our visit to Park Güell to see more of Gaudí’s work. We underestimated how much time it would take to get there on the metro, and then we got lost trying to find it, and since the tickets are good only for a specific time slot, we were sort of in a panic. You only need tickets to see the Gaudí structures, and the rest of the massive, sprawling park is free to the public. Families were having picnics, there were men playing guitar, but I was frankly most excited to see the exact spot where Top Model Cycle 7 had their final runway challenge (Jamal did not understand). Park Güell was originally intended to be a private housing development, with shared green space for about 60 Gaudí-designed homes. They only ended up building 2 or 3 before running out of money, and Gaudí lived in the model home. For a man who designed such intricate, visionary buildings, he lived rather modestly; his bedroom contained a single bed, a crucifix, and one small bedside table.

We moved for our last few nights to the Cotton House Hotel on the Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes, which was, without a doubt, the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The hotel is a converted mansion that the original cotton magnate of Barcelona built for his wife, and was just oozing comfortable luxury. We used Jamal’s hotel points, and they surprised us with an upgraded suite with a balcony overlooking the terrace. We even saw Keith Richards in the lobby! At least, we think it was Keith Richards. It may have been a very convincing dopplegänger.

Gran Via was close to the main shopping thoroughfare of Passeig de Gracia, and only a 10-15 minute walk to nearly everything else in the city. We are already dreaming (and scheming) about going back, to that hotel specifically, but Barcelona more generally. Cute puppies, strong cocktails, chocolate-covered croissants, and gorgeous architecture? Can you blame us for wanting to go back?

Vacation Photos Spain: Barcelona, pt. 1

Passeig de Picasso

Casa Batlló

Palm Trees, Passeig de Calvell

El Poblenou

Tiny Husband, Big Door




Pla de Palau

Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de la Ciutadella

Cascada Monumental

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia


Oh, Barcelona. By the time we arrived, we’d spent almost a week in Spain, visiting Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona, and Zaragoza, and while we loved every city for different reasons, it really did feel like we were saving the best for last. Everyone we knew who’d been to Spain kept telling us before we’d even left, as did everyone we met during our trip. Usually it sounded like, “You’re going to love Spain! All of it is so great. But Barcelona is just…” and they’d trail off, a dreamy look on their faces, unable to find the right words to adequately describe exactly what it is about the Catalan capital that makes everyone fall in love with it. Frankly, I’m having the same problem.

After dropping of our trusty rental car in the middle of town, we checked into our first of two hotels, a furnished apartment near the beach. After spending so much time in smaller, quieter cities and towns, we thought staying just outside of the main downtown area for a few nights would provide a more gentle transition, an easing-in to Barcelona. We stayed at Lugaris Beach, in El Poblenou, a wonderfully local and off-the-beatn track neighborhood north of Barceloneta. It was a five minute walk to the metro, and just a few stops to the main part of the city, but also directly across the street from a beach. The apartment had a full kitchen, which meant Jamal got to cook dinner for us one night, after we went shopping on the Rambla at small grocers. After dinner, we spotted from our window a pop-up amusement park up the beach, and knew we had to check it out. Jamal rode the bumper cars (I literally haven’t laughed so hard in years), won me a bracelet popping balloons with darts, and we shared a mojito at 11pm. The next night, we had the best meal of our lives at El 58 a few minutes from our apartment; the ceviche alone is worth the airfare back.

And of course, we visited the Sagrada Familia. We bought tickets online in advance (the only way to do it; entries are timed, and the wait could stretch up to five hours) which included an audioguide and entry to the Gaudí House Museum in Parc Guell the next day. The church has been under construction for 150 years, and was recently given a completion date of 2026, the 100 year anniversary of the architect’s death. (So we already know the date of our next trip to Barcelona.) It was overwhelming, visually, emotionally, walking into the church and taking in the scale of it. I’m not religious, not by a long shot, but as the daughter of an architect it was hard not to be blown away by the sheer magic of Gaudí’s mind.

We indulged in gelato, had too many glasses of wine, took a trip to Louis Vuitton, a morning stroll along the beach to watch the old men play competitive dominoes, and before we knew it, we had to leave El Poblenou, our lovely local ‘hood, and move downtown.

Vacation Photos Spain: Zaragoza

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilarza-2

La Seo del Salvador

La Seo del Salvador

La Seo del Salvador

El Tubo Neighborhood

Calle de Don Jaime I

Marzipan Mushrooms, Fantoba


Museo Goya


Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Mercado Central

Iglesia de Santa Isabel de Portugal

Barcelona may be all about Gaudí, but Zaragoza is all about Goya.

We stopped in Zaragoza after Pamplona, a quick hour drive to the east, on our way to Barcelona. Excitement by this point had been building for Barcelona; everyone we met at restaurants or bars would invariably ask about our itinerary and rave about the city, swearing to us that wherever we were then was great (Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona) but Barcelona was just better, and we were going to love it. As a result, I felt like I mentally rushed through Zaragoza, in my anticipation for Barcelona. Which is a shame, because Zaragoza is beautiful, and by far the least-touristy spot we visited.

We had the entire Goya museum to ourselves. Having seen so much of his work at the Prado in Madrid, we were prepared for how dark he could be. Or so we thought. There is one room of his lithograph etchings, mostly social commentary pieces, all with deeply disturbed, bizarre interpretations. It didn’t help that the entire room was pitch black, and the display cases of his work only lit up if you stood in front of it. Eerie to say the least. The church in the first two photo, Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, was one of the largest and most beautiful we’d seen on the trip so far, and included frescoes by Goya inside (no photography allowed).

We had lunch in the teeny El Tubo neighborhood and then visited the remains of an ancient Roman wall dating back to their occupation in 200 BC. Having been sufficiently stuffed full of tapas and Spanish food and jamon iberico by this point in the trip, and wanting to save our stomachs for whatever Barcelona had to offer, we gave into our base instincts and had Italian for dinner. After, of course, having mojitos outside at (you guessed it) a tapas bar. We stayed at an NH Collection hotel, a quick walk from all the main sights, and just a block from the main shopping boulevard Paseo Independencia, where we grabbed gelato at Amorino after dinner. Hey, I said we were full of cured ham, not dessert.

Twenty four hours felt a little fast, but Zaragoza isn’t a huge town, and we were able to experience most of it. The next morning, we loaded up our rental car and headed off for Barcelona! I’ll probably have two posts of Barcelona photos, but I haven’t even started editing them yet. Have a great weekend, kiddos!

Vacation Photos Spain: Pamplona

Plaza del Castillo

Bakery, Pamplona

Catedral de Santa María

Ronda Obispo Barbazán

La Ciudadela
Spot the puppy!

Escuela Pública de Música Joaquín Maya

Plazuela del Consejo

City Hall

Narrow Streets

Reading, Cafe

Cafe Iruña

Cafe Iruña

Biblioteca Pública de Pamplona

Tuna Tartare, Restaurante Anttonenea

Grilled Octopus, Restaurante Anttonenea

Joyería Víctor Idoate

For a Hemingway lover like myself, visiting Pamplona was the literary equivalent of taking a child to Disneyland. Ordering a glass of wine at Café Iruña, on the Plaza del Castillo, and taking a photo with the bronze statue of Papa they have in the back bar, was as thrilling as riding Splash Mountain as an eight year old; I was psyched. It didn’t hurt that Pamplona was also, unsurprisingly, lovely. Charming, quaint, quiet, and endlessly photogenic.

But if you’re going to go, I would only recommend going in the off-season, or any week of the year besides San Fermin, or the running of the bulls. Because, while lovely, Pamplona is really, really small, and there is no conceivable way over one million people could squeeze into the tiny, narrow stone streets without my claustrophobia alarm ringing a death knell. And besides being cramped and overrun (pun intended), everything becomes more expensive in the middle of July because of it. We stayed at the gorgeous Palacio Guendulain hotel, which was the former residence of Queen Isabella II and still has her many carriages on display. Our room was under €130 a night for a one-night stay in late April; in July, the same room costs €989. Per night!

Also, and I had assumed this was a creative liberty Hemingway took in “The Sun Also Rises,” but that whole bit about killing the bulls after they are chased into the stadium? That happens! I’m assuming there is no Spanish PETA.

But really, Pamplona was a dream of a town. We only spent 24 hours there, and we managed to walk the entire thing twice over, including the old fortifications and citadel. Pamplona is one of the greenest cities in Spain, with all of the old military fortifications turned into public green spaces and parks. The citadel was a hugely imposing structure, every level of which had been grassed over, and parts of which were used for outdoor art installations (and dog runs!). The Parque de La Taconera had hundreds of chickens and other wild birds roaming around (we stayed far away from the peacocks). It was a quick stay, admittedly, but we made the most of it.

Vacation Photos Spain: San Sebastián

De Alderdi Eder Parkea




Waiting Pup

Boulevard Zumardia

Out for a stroll

Askatasunaren Hiribidea

Tapas Hour, Old Town

Puerto deportivo


Feeding pigeons, De Cervantes Plaza

Constitución Plaza

Out for a stroll


Arriving in San Sebastián after almost five hours in the car felt like we had entered an entirely different country. The GPS started speaking to us in what felt like Flemish, long strings of unpronounceable vowels unlike anything we had ever heard. Welcome to Basque Country! A zone in the north of Spain along the Pyrenees and across the border into France (France was just half an hour away from where we were staying, which felt like torture! So close and yet so far!) with a distinct culture, history, and yes, language. Just as we had started to feel comfortable with Spanish in Madrid (“comfortable” meaning I shot panicked looks to Jamal whenever someone spoke to me) we were dropped in the heart of Basque Country and left to fend for ourselves. Our proximity to France, though, meant that lots of shops and restaurants spoke at least a little bit of French, but honestly, pointing at things and smiling widely compensates for a lot when you are a clueless tourist.

San Sebastián is incredible. We stayed at the historic Hotel Londres right on the beach, even though it wasn’t warm enough to go swimming. We wandered, we ate, we stopped for a drink, we ate some more, we got lost in the tiny, pedestrian-only alleys in the Old Town. We trekked across the small bridge to the Gros neighborhood, which felt much more local and off the beaten path, to have custom gin cocktails crafted for us at La Gintoneria. Jamal, unfortunately, got a touch of food poisoning after dinner on our first night, which meant that I had a few hours the next morning to kill solo. The city is divided into the quaint and cobblestoned Old Town, and the more upscale and modern Centro neighborhood, with shops like Zara Home and FNAC and Sephora. You can guess where I went.

Jamal felt much better by lunch time, so we ventured to the marina and visited the Aquarium, which was surprisingly large given the tiny size of the town. There were so many colorful and interesting fish; I have enough photos to make a totally separate post about our visit there, which I promise to do. We felt like little kids, it was such a fun afternoon.

After two days, we were off to Pamplona!

Vacation Photos Spain: Madrid, pt. 2


Monumento Alfonso XII, Retiro Park

Row Boat!

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace

Retiro Park

Booksellers, Calle Claudio Moyano

Calle Claudio Moyano

Calle de Las Huertas

English Bookstore

Royal Palace


Restaurant, Chueca

Jamon Iberico

Cod & Purple Potatoes

Morning Coffee, Casco Viejo

A highlight of Madrid was, without a doubt, Retiro Park. Translated from Spanish, Parque del Buen Retiro literally means Park of the Pleasant Retreat, and having spent an entire afternoon there, I can attest to its accuracy. There is a giant man-made lake where you can rent a rowboat for €6 (while Jamal dutifully rowed us gently down the stream, I sat in my trench with the hood up, and my scarf draped around me like a hijab, so that absolutely no mid-day sun rays could reach me), a magical, all-glass greenhouse aptly named the Crystal Palace, shaded, manicured walkways, open fields for lounging, and what felt like the entire population of Madrid enjoying this urban oasis. Can you blame them? We visited after a morning at the Prado, as the two are right next to each other. We could’ve (and should’ve!) brought a picnic and had a lazy lunch in the grass (in the shade, naturally). Next time. Because in case you can’t tell, we were so smitten with Madrid there will absolutely be a next time.

We spent a lot of time in the Chueca neighborhood, just north of Gran Via. There were tons of bars and restaurants, and we had a glass of wine outside and just people-watched for an hour. A very brave bird stole a potato chip right from the middle of our table, which we are still laughing about, because we have bad luck with birds. (Last spring in Paris, a bird flew into our apartment through an open window and wouldn’t leave. We were trapped in the lofted bedroom until it decided to leave.) We ate too much jamon iberico at every meal, which isn’t a complaint, I swear.

On our last morning, we gathered supplies for our four and a half hour car ride to San Sebastiàn, picked up our rental car, and were off! Two and a half days wasn’t enough time in Madrid. Don’t let anyone tell you it is (I’m looking at you, Rick Steves).

Vacation Photos Spain: Madrid, pt. 1


Tio Pepe, Puerta del Sol

Artist's Palette

Plaza de Ramales

Royal Palace

Royal Palace



Calle Mayor


Calle los Madrazo



Calle Mayor

Everyone we asked before our trip was pretty unanimous in their assessment of Madrid: it’s nice, but you don’t need to spend too much time there. It’s nice, but Barcelona is better. It’s nice, but don’t expect to be wowed.

They could not have been more wrong.

Maybe it was all the forewarning about how much we weren’t going to like Madrid that made us love it so much. Lower anyone’s expectations enough and you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised. But I think it was much more than that. Madrid is vibrant, bustling, delightful, beautiful, and still retains the distinctly quaint character of individual neighborhoods (a reason I love my own city so much).

Madrid wowed us right off the bat, the moment we stepped out of the taxi from the airport (which took the most circuitous route imaginable to our hotel on Gran Via, thanks to the Madrid Marathon that morning). The sun was shining, the air was crisp, everyone was friendly, and Madrid was, well, gorgeous. It had all the charms of a big city, but still felt neighborhoody and manageable. On our first day, just orienting ourselves with the city, we ended up with cricks in our necks from looking straight up at all the stunning architecture.

We went to El Rastro, the largest weekly flea market on the continent, the first morning we were there. It was a sprawling, winding, jam-packed market filled to the brim with antiques and cheap clothes and knick-knacks. The Rick Steves guidebook we bought last year said that pickpockets were rampant, and the police didn’t even bother trying to stop it, so you were better off not even bringing a wallet. Our taxi driver, in his best broken English, told us the same thing: don’t bring a bag, don’t bring a wallet, be extra vigilant. We spent over two hours wandering and weaving our way through that thing, and let me tell you, we couldn’t have felt safer. I swear, one dumb tourist from Muncie, Indiana who’s never left the suburbs gets pick-pocketed and the whole city gets a bad rap.

We went to the Museo del Prado, a museum you’d need more than one visit to take in. Thanks to buying tickets online in advance, we were the first people in the door on our second morning. We marveled over the immense collection of Goya, and both agreed the man went off the deep end later in life. There’s a room devoted to just his “Black Paintings,” or images he painted of his nightmares, which made us both deeply uncomfortable.

We ate incredibly well, but tapas’d ourselves out early on in the trip unfortunately. There was a 24-hour sandwich shop down the street from our hotel called Oink, which served nothing but jamon iberico sandwiches for €2.50. If heaven is a place on earth, I’m pretty sure there’s an Oink there.

Next up, rowing a boat in Retiro Park!