Adventures on St. Croix

 

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The courtyard of my Airbnb

I recently spent a week in St. Croix for a wedding. I will always look back on this trip and smile, but not because everything went as planned. It was, in fact, a combination of minor frustrations, comical mishaps, interesting characters and truly heartwarming moments. It was the first time that I have traveled out of the country with a big group of friends. I’ve done a fair amount of solo travel and have enjoyed it, but there is something very special about being abroad with a bigger group. There may be more time spent organizing the group, but I loved being able to share adventures with some of my closest friends and meet new people as well. It was also very special to me the way that our group came together to handle inconveniences and potential problems with grace and kindness. Here are some of my favorite moments from the trip:

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Rainbow beach view
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Hello Mr. Crab!

Rainbow beach and this crab

Our first beach day was at Rainbow Beach. I rented a beach chair and an umbrella for $20 and proceeded to lounge and swim. There is a cute, beachy restaurant/bar where I got a piña colada and some fried shrimp. Everything was tasty! Overall it was a successful day and I would recommend this beach 🙂

 

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Fort Christianvearn
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Limpricht Park

Exploring Christiansted

I’m a sucker for historic architecture, especially of the colonial, island variety. My Airbnb was in Christiansted and I really enjoyed walking around and looking at the beautiful old buildings. Fort Christianvearn was just down the street and was a great place to wander. There was also a cute park down the street that had a lot of character.

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Beach at Hotel on the Cay

The beach at Hotel on the Cay

We went to this beach two days in a row. I went the first day on my own and liked it so much that I convinced other people to come. It’s a short (it felt like 30 seconds!) ferry ride to a cute island with a small beach. There is a hotel on the island but non-guests are asked not to explore the island beyond the beach and bar. The water was calm and clear and there was a bar/restaurant (great pineapple daiquiri) and a watersports stand where I rented a snorkel on the first day.

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There were so many gorgeous chickens!
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An iguana grabbing a maraschino cherry!

Good weather

Rain was predicted for our entire trip. There were a few storms, including one torrential downpour, but we also had plently of sun and beach-worthy weather. The weather even cooperated on the day of the wedding which was a blessing.

The wedding

The wedding itself was beautiful and intimate. It was on the beach at one of the island’s resorts. I was asked to perform the wedding ceremony and I enjoyed the process of getting ordained, writing a ceremony and performing the actual marriage. I am not a confident public speaker, but when the time came to do the ceremony I was reassured by the happiness of the moment and everything fell into place naturally. The wedding was followed by a dinner/reception. There were only about twenty people there in total and I really liked the intimacy and relaxed nature of a smaller wedding.

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Relaxing before the wedding

 

A few frustrations…

Lack of transportation options

I would recommend that anyone traveling to St. Croix rent a car. A great deal of our group’s frustrations came from figuring out how to get people staying in a variety of locations to and from different places. The island is fairly big and places were farther away than they seemed they would be on the map. It was off-season and finding a cab after 6 pm (and sometimes even during the day) was difficult and expensive. I didn’t end up renting a car, but some of my friends did and I would say it saved the vacation. I will note that driving is on the left-hand side of the road and some roads have sharp turns, and steep inclines or declines. But I think these discomforts would be outweighed by the convenience of more control over your transportation.

Comically (?) strange lodging experiences

To the person, all of us had some sort of funny, annoying or awkward story about the places we stayed including strange Airbnb hosts, poor service, remote or hard-to-reach locations, flooding, and beaches overrun with seaweed. I’m purposely not including the names of the places as this is not meant to be a review of specific establishments and more of a commentary on the travel in general. When you think of spending a week on a tropical island, or really on any vacation, you have certain expectations built up in your mind about stress-free, perfect travel. But that’s not always how things play out. Previously, these imperfections would have weighed on me and affected the joy I took in the vacation, but this time I was able to focus on the good things and really enjoyed the time I spent with the other people on the trip. I think it was the difference between dwelling on what you imagined your trip would be rather than being present and thankful for the opportunity to share experiences and find beauty in unlikely places.

I would definitely return to St. Croix. I feel like I just got a small taste of what the island has to offer.

How about you? Have you ever taken a group vacation? And how do you handle unexpected trip snafus?

xoxo Anna

Bound for St. Croix

Hey everyone! It has been a whirlwind few days. I came home from Phoenix on Saturday and tomorrow I am headed to St. Croix for a wedding and some tropical fun. I have never been to St. Croix before, although I have been to St. John where I got stuck in a tropical storm! I love the tropics almost as much as I love the desert. There is something so magical about that aqua water. I have my own tiny Airbnb apartment located in Christiansted. I am looking forward to snorkeling, hanging out on the beach and discovering the history of the island. By the looks of the map, I will be in the heart of town and very close to the historic Fort Christiansvaern.

I will be taking the week off from posting to focus on spending time with friends and drinking things out of coconuts! If you don’t already, follow me on Instagram for snapshots of my vacay! I have plans for lots of content when I get back including a St. Croix travelogue and more ethical fashion looks.

Till then,

xoxo Anna

 

Six snaps

 

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Pretty but dangerous

If you follow my blog, you know that I have been spending the month of July in Phoenix visiting family. I thought I would share some snapshots that I have taken during my visit. This will be a recurring series where I share interesting snapshots and moments that don’t really fit into a set category. As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of baking and cooking, observing local animals (chipmunks, lizards, quails) and plants (so many kinds of cacti!), and shopping at the local Goodwill. Every time I come out here I try to spot a rattlesnake, but no luck so far. I look under every bush when I go on my daily walks because I feel like that is where I am going to see one. On past trips I have seen coyotes and javelinas, but never a snake! Wish me luck 🙂

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Homemade dinner rolls
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Love the pastel shades on this prickly pear cactus
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Denim and red nail polish
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I made two strawberry rhubarb pies!

Nice and Paris highlights

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Cap D’Ail
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Salade Nicoise

From Dublin, I made my way to Nice, France. You can read about my time in Ireland here. I was originally supposed to meet a friend in Nice but because of a travel snafu, I ended up flying solo for my week on the French Riviera. Here are my favorite moments…

Watching locals jumping off the pier at Castel Plage

I spent a lot of my time in Nice at the beach. Following tips I read on the internet, I splurged on private beaches. The going rate for a towel and beach chair was around 20 euros for the day. Since I was alone, it allowed me to safely leave my belongings on my chair and go for a swim. On my first day I went to Castel Plage, conveniently located at the end of the Promenade des Anglais. I felt pretty chic sunning on my beach chair, drinking mojitos and watching acrobatic locals jumping of a nearby rock outcrop. My only complaint (really more of an annoyance with myself) was that I kept forgetting to bring reading material. Oh well, I guess I’ll get another mojito and people-watch some more! Most beaches in and around Nice are composed of pebbles of varying sizes. Some are large, like rocks, and some a tiny and more like sand. Castel Plage had the first, making it a little uncomfortable to get in and out of the water. My favorite beach for swimming was Beaulieu-sur-mer, which I went to on my second day. This was a tiny pebble beach and was very comfortable to walk on. After Beaulieu, I visited Villefranche-sur-mer which has a lovely old town. I had an excellent dinner at Les Garcons followed by coconut gelato overlooking the harbor.

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Fresh vegetables at the market in Nice
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Villefranche-sur-mer

Eating socca and farcis

Socca is a crispy, thin chickpea pancake and a traditional street food in Nice. Farcis is vegetables (I had tomatoes and zucchini) stuffed with a ground meat mixture. I sampled both of these classics at Lou Pilha Leva at Place Centrale. After ordering at the counter I settled at one of the communal outdoor tables to eat, where I was immediately engaged in conversation by the other guests. I had a fun time practicing my French with actual French people in actual France 🙂

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View from the citadel in Entrevaux

A rainy day in Entrevaux

The Train des Pigne runs from Nice through Haute Province to Digne-Les-Bains. I decided to take the train to Entreveaux, a small medieval town along the route. The views along the way were magnificent. Entreveaux itself is a sweet, little walled village with winding, narrow streets and a high citadel. For a small price you can take a self-guided tour of the ramparts and visit the citadel. The ramparts contain a strange, somewhat comical museum of sorts which has dioramas about the history of the town. It started to rain while I was exploring. I dodged into a small shop to avoid the rain and ended up having an extended and lovely conversation with the shop owner in broken French. When the rain subsided I hiked to the top of the citadel and explored the ruins. It was quite a hike, but well worth it for the views and the citadel itself. There were no restaurants open inside the town so I ended the day at a small café across the street from the entry bridge. They were not serving dinner but the shop owner made me the most delicious jambon et beurre avec cornichons (ham and butter with pickles) and I sat on the porch drinking coffee and watching the rain for quite a while before catching the train back to Nice.

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Cap D’Ail

Getting lost on the way to the beach in Cap D’Ail

On my last day in Nice, I decided to go to Cap D’Ail by train. When I got off the train, I tried to make my way to the beach, but couldn’t find it. I figured if I walked in the direction of the water I would find it, but ended up getting more and more lost. I was wandering along a random road when I spotted a local driving by and asked for directions. They instructed me to climb over a fence and some rocks to get to a pathway that ran right along the sea. The path turned out to be magical, running up and down along rocky outcrops with the turquoise Mediterranean waves splashing below. Unfortunately, it ended in a locked gate. The gate was high and I couldn’t climb over. To get around I would have to scale the side rail and suspend myself over a 30 ft drop to the water before climbing over the side rail on the other side. I had spent 20 minutes on the path and didn’t want to turn around and go back. A woman passed by on the other side and tried to help (I’m pretty sure I looked mildly crazy clutching the bars) but there really wasn’t any way so she moved on. Finally, I decided to risk it and climb around the gate. 30 or so seconds later, during which I questioned all my life decisions, I was over and on my way to the beach. The beach at Cap D’Ail was stunning and I quickly forgot my adventure in haze of swimming, sun and more mojitos. Comically enough, on the way home from the beach I found out there was a stairway that went to the beach just a little further down the random road I was walking on. Oh well!

From Nice I flew to Paris for the last 3 days of my trip.

3 relaxed days in Paris

I ended up meeting my friend in Paris. It was so nice to see a good friend after all my solo adventuring. We had both been to Paris before and had covered most of the major touristy stuff, so we had a relaxed three days wandering around shopping and eating. We were staying in Bellville near the Parc de Buttes Chaumont so we had a picnic there (which involved a trip to the local grocery store, one of my favorite things to do on vacation). We also had a fancy dinner at Pirouette in Les Halles (super!) and found a bunch of really cute boutiques to shop in. I am guilty of buying some clothing at H&M. However, I am convinced I made different decisions because I was in Paris, and my purchases have mostly stood the test of time.

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Pigeon for dinner at Pirouette
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Rosé for days at the supermarche

I also got a tattoo 🙂 I had been wanting to get a tattoo in Paris since the last time I visited and spontaneously decided to do it. However, I didn’t choose the best place and the tattoo didn’t stand the test of time. Instead of a tiny heart (so cute!) it ended up looking like an amorphous blob on my wrist (not so cute!), so I recently had to have it touched up (cute again!). No regrets, tho!

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Last meal in Paris

Then it was back to my other favorite city, NYC. I will be sharing details of the souvenirs I bought in Ireland and France, as well as my strategies for choosing souvenirs and gifts while on vacation, in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

 

Ireland, you’re awesome

In August of 2016 I took a solo journey to Ireland. What follows is by no means a comprehensive travel guide or even a “best of” but more of a reflection on what sites and experiences really stood out from a vacation packed with memorable moments.

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Dublin street scene

Traveling alone has its ups and downs. I am, by nature, a person who is comfortable alone and able to entertain myself for long periods of time. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to set my own schedule and rely on my own resourcefulness to get around. That said, there were many moments when I felt in need of familiar companionship and at a loss as to how to find it. There is nothing like being thousands of miles from home, on your own, to bring out feelings of vulnerability. On a positive note, I think this lead me to be chattier with random strangers and I ended up meeting many interesting people. My advice to others traveling alone would be to not let feelings of loneliness or vulnerability get you down or make you feel like you have failed as a solo adventurer. I think it is part of the process for many. Despite these feelings (or because of them?) I look back on this trip as a grand adventure. Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I look forward to returning, as I feel I only got a small taste of what this country has to offer.

Dublin 
I started my trip with a day in Dublin, which is an intriguing city with tons of history but also a modern, artistic edge. Aesthetically, I loved the bright and graphic signage mixed in with older architecture. Dublin is a very walkable city and I took a relaxed approach to exploration. I made a few touristy stops in Dublin including the Oscar Wilde memorial sculpture (super cool!), St. Stephen’s Green (lovely ramble), the Book of Kells at Trinity College (fascinating) and the Old Jameson factory (meh). I also loved browsing through indie shops in the Grafton Street part of the city and stopping at antique shops and vendor fairs I came across, one of which was at the Generator Hostel pictured below.

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The Generator Hostel in Dublin
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A sign (of sorts) in Dublin
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Cheese toastie at The Stags Head, Dublin
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Blue skies in Killarney, Ireland
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I tasted all the whiskey!

Ballycarberry Castle and the Ring of Kerry
From Dublin I made my way to Killarney to explore the Ring of Kerry. I had read that Killarney was a tourist trap, which is accurate, but it is still fun to visit the many shops and pubs (sampling whiskey all the way :)) and meeting fellow travelers.

I debated renting a car to drive around the ring. As a city resident with a fear of heights, who drives approximately once a year, the idea of driving on the left hand side of winding coastal roads sounded borderline suicidal. I imagined hordes of honking, angry drivers trailing behind me as a crawled along the highway at 5 miles an hour. The idea of taking a tour bus was even less appealing. So for this part of the trip, I splurged on a private taxi tour of the Ring of Kerry. It felt ridiculously decadent, but ended up to be well worth it. The driver took me to places that were not on regular tour bus routes and would stop in any place that I wanted. One of our stops was Ballycarberry Castle, a tumble-down structure surrounded by coastal plains. It may be controversial in terms of historical preservation, but the best part of this experience for me was that you could climb all over and into the ruins. It really made me feel connected to the place and to history. The sweeping green landscape around it wasn’t too bad either. The scenery on the Ring of Kerry was more breathtaking and green than I could have imagined, and wandering briefly in the foggy, mysterious forests of Killarney National Park made had me making plans to come back for an extend hiking trip.

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Hello!
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Views on the Ring of Kerry

Coffee facing the ocean in Waterville
Along the ring of Kerry is the coastal town of Waterville. Spending a relaxing hour here drinking coffee facing the ocean and watching kids on the beach having an ecology lesson was mind altering. It had me wondering how feasible it would be to relocate all of my friends and family to this tranquil spot.

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Coffee by the shore in Waterville

Lisdoonvarna
Lisdoonvarna is the site of a famous matchmaking festival which draws hopefuls from all around Ireland and even the world. At other times of the year it is a quiet place. Without a lot of research, I had decided to use Lisdoonvarna as a jumping off place to visit the Aran Islands, rather than Doolin which is more popular among travelers. I arrived a week before the Matchmaking festival and it was fun to watch the town prepare for the coming crowd. There was definitely a sense of anticipation in the air. The Rathbaun Hotel is small and charming and has well-known live music nights, which I enjoyed both nights I stayed there. One thing I will note is that—as of August 2016— there were no ATMs in Doolin or Lisdoonvarna. I mention this because it took me by surprise and caused a little stress. Some establishments offer cash for credit at a fee, which saved me, but I would recommend getting the cash you need before you get to town.

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The Matchmaker Bar in Lisdoonvarna was about to see a lot of action.

Riding bike through stone walls of Inis Oírr
Inis Oírr (pronounced “sheer”) is the smallest and southernmost Aran Island. I took the ferry from Doolin and rented a bike to explore the island. August is the height of tourist season in Ireland and yet I found myself alone riding between the island’s famous, interlacing stone walls. Inis Oírr is small and you can see most of the highlights in a day including a magnificent, rusty ship wreck, cool coastal rock formations dotted with tide pools, an interesting wind-swept grave yard and the ruins of a castle on the uppermost point of the island.

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Open road
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Famous interlacing stone walls
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These Superga sneakers were the best for walking

Fish chowder and brown bread at Café an Chaisleán, Inis Oírr
This was my favorite meal in Ireland. It was delicious, lite and simple. The adorable, chatty waiter made me feel like I was eating in a friend’s house.

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So good!

Dolphins dancing in front of boat by Cliffs of Moher
On the ferry ride back from Inis Oirr the boat made a special trip to view the Cliffs of Moher. At first it was rainy and the cliffs were covered in haze but then the sun broke through and highlighted these spectacular formations. A school of dolphins rode the waves at the bow of the ship heading back into the dock. I have never been so close to a dolphin and it was a memorable experience.

The bus ride from Lisdoonvarna to Galway
For the most part, I traveled by public transport through Ireland. I love doing this when traveling. The act of having to negotiate a foreign transit system has the instant effect of making me feel engaged in the daily rhythm of the place I am visiting. The bus route I took hugs the burren coast from Lisdoonvarna to Galway. It was an unexpected opportunity to see more of the countryside and to get inspired for future travels further up the western coast of Ireland.

From Galway I made my way to Dublin by bus and caught a flight to Nice. Stay tuned for highlights from my Nice adventure.

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Interesting rocks formations and flowers on Inis Oírr