9 Things You’ll Notice On Your First Trip To Tokyo

My first trip to Tokyo was a sensory overload in the best of ways. At first glance, many aspects of the city seemed like typical quirks of urban life that I was familiar with as a New Yorker. But I quickly discovered that under every seemingly familiar facade was something new to unravel that was totally foreign to my life in the States. It was a constant lesson in adjusting my assumptions about what I thought I knew, and embracing the (amazing) uncertainty of admitting to myself that I understood nothing about how to navigate the culture of this overwhelming, new-to-me metropolis. All I could do was listen, learn, and commit as many moments as possible to memory.

I first visited Tokyo on a girls’ trip to visit an American friend who was living in Japan at the time, just a few weeks before Christmas (and just a few years into adulthood). I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. There was really no better way to get my first taste of the country than with two of my oldest friends—one of whom was a resident herself.

Of course, I barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but I left with a lot of long-lasting first impressions. Below, a few things that might surprise you on your first trip to Tokyo…

1.  The balance between the historic and modern

It isn’t rare to see a centuries-old structure alongside a towering skyscraper, and that same juxtaposition seemed to show up among local business, city dwellers’ daily habits, and how people related to each other.

2. The fashion

Harajuku, one of the visual highlights of a first trip to Tokyo. Need I say more?

3. The ramen

Tiny, flavor-packed ramen bars overflow with businessmen, students, and tourists alike.

4. The attention to detail

When strolling along the Tokyo Imperial Palace’s East Gardens, I came across  crew of several city employees (or perhaps volunteers?) gathered around a small cluster of trees, meticulously trimming each branch. They were still there when I passed again hours later. I’ll never forget that display of care and attention, and those values seemed to spill over into many other facets of Tokyo residents’ lives.

5. The courtesy on public transportation

If you’ve ever relied on public transit for your daily commute, you know it’s not exactly unicorns and kittens—people are rude as hell. On the NYC subway, where I spend most mornings, the crowds and overall nastiness brings out the worst in people. At rush hour, people push and shove like bumper cars to squeeze their way onto crowded trains. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been waiting for ten minutes and they just arrived on the platform—everyone’s on a mission, and manners no longer apply.

This is not what I witnessed in Tokyo. Instead, the platform was painted with orderly queue, and—gasp—commuters actually followed those prompts by standing in line, and boarding the train in an orderly fashion. I thought I was hallucinating.

6. The kawaii

The cuter, the better.

7. The vending machines

Because you never know when you’ll need canned coffee, a cup of noodles, or a pair of socks on the go.

8. The 100-yen shops

These are a bit like dollar stores in the U.S., but with (in my humble opinion) far more fascinating merchandise.

9. The rhythm

Tokyo residents have a way of moving that’s all their own, and it’s mesmerizing to watch.
Crowded as the city may be, pedestrians seem to weave amongst each other in what looks like their very own form of choreography. Even packed intersections and train stations can take on a calming feel, because inexplicably, everyone seems to know exactly where they’re going, and nobody’s in anyone else’s way.

8 Things To Love About Hudson, New York

If you were to dream up a perfect community for a quiet weekend getaway, Hudson would check off all the boxes. Over the past few years, the upstate New York town has become a haven for creative-ish folks fleeing Manhattan and Brooklyn for a quieter way of life. The result is a blend between the relaxed, welcoming pace of lifelong locals and the buzzing entrepreneurial energy of city transplants who are still learning how to slow down their pace in their new home.

The streets are lined with trusty local hardware stores and diners that have been around forever alongside Brooklyn-born stationery shops that sell small-batch candles. In short, Hudson contains a lot of contrasts, but it also offers up tiny slices of charm around every corner. (Seriously: when locals would ask me how I was liking Hudson, I kept calling it “delightful,” like freaking Mary Poppins or something. But that was the only word that summed it up just right!)

If you’re an overworked city dweller, Hudson is the perfect place to escape to by train when you need to get away from life for a few days. Here’s what will sweep you off your feet when you get there…

1. The antique shops

Hudson must be breaking some kind of record somewhere for the most antique shops on any given block. The town’s offerings of antique furniture, vintage records, quirky glassware, and historic finds is unreal. And of course, each shop’s whacky displays are a sight in and of themselves. Every shop owner had a different story to tell about how they’d landed in Hudson and where they sourced their treasures, and each was as unique as the antiques themselves.

Hudson antiques

2. The creative culture

Did you know Hudson has its own elusive local painter who sells his work on the streets, rarely makes appearances, and is something of a celebrity? Yeah, me neither. The town is home to artists and creatives of every stripe, and that’s reflected in everything from the healing crystals sold in the local thrift shops to the flair that goes into the local decor.

Crystals in Hudson

Succulents in Hudson

3. The people

I had more great conversations with strangers in Hudson than I can count. Some were transplants, some were lifelong residents, but all of them were incredibly kind.

Hudson City Hall

4. Hudson’s historic homes

Each one seems more beautiful than the last.

Hudson architecture

Historic Hudson house

5. The bright colors

It’s like a cartoon come to life, am I right?

Hudson's main street

6. The opera house

The Hudson Opera House is more than 150 years old, and is New York State’s oldest surviving opera house. Hudson citizens came together in 1992 to give the building new life, and just finished a major performance hall restoration project. The best part? It’s open to the public during the day, so you can wander in and check out some of the building’s ancient treasures.

Hudson Opera House

Chairs in the Hudson Opera House

Inside the Hudson Opera House

7. The nighttime stillness

On weekend evenings, the town tucks in for the evening—a novel concept for those of us who are hooked on the 24/7 nature of today’s world (raises hand). When I was in town, even the local CVS closed early! The cozy quiet makes nighttime walks through the streets a thing of magic. The sidewalks empty out, but closed shops’ creative displays mostly stay lit up. It’s like a walk through an art gallery on your own little planet.

Hudson diner

8. The surprises at every turn

Hudson is full of little Easter eggs. Once, we looked down at the sidewalk to discover that an array of lovely seashells were encased into the cement beneath our feet. Another time, we walked into what appeared to be an overflowing thrift shop, only to find that a kickass bar was in the back room. When we veered off the town’s main street, we accidentally came across a storied, well-loved theater that’s been in town for decades—and we wouldn’t even have spotted it if we hadn’t kept our eyes open! The whole town is this way. It looks like one thing at first, but is always hiding another layer of magic just beneath the surface if you’re willing to look a little closer.

Hudson antiques

Hudson sidewalk art

A block in Hudson

5 Things I Learned From Las Vegas Uber Drivers

1. Where to find the best cheesesteaks in Philly.

Pat’s is perfectly fine, but I find their steaks a bit too heavy,” Ron, a Philadelphia native, tells me after I regale him with the tale of my first-ever cheesesteak experience last fall. “Next time you’re in Philly, here’s what you’re going to want to do: stop by this place called Tony Luke’s, at the end of Oregon Avenue. Now, at Pat’s your steak probably had a few thick slabs of meat and then Cheez Whiz on it, right? Well at Tony Luke’s, you’ll find super finely sliced meat, a lot easier to eat, and more cheese options, you can choose between Cheez Whiz, provolone, or cheddar.” This guy knows his stuff. He tells me afterward that he wants to open a cheesesteak restaurant on the Vegas Strip the second he finds himself a good backer.

The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas

2. The backstory of one of the most beautiful bars on the Strip.

Halfway through our commute to the Cosmopolitan hotel, our driver Ryan says, “okay, I have to brag for a second, because I can’t help mentioning it every time the Cosmopolitan comes up…” I have zero clue what to expect next. “My brother is an architect, and you know what his last big project was?” I hold my breath. “He designed the Chandelier bar at the Cosmopolitan.” At first, my only response is a brief shriek. This thing is the highlight of the whole hotel, it’s a bar surrounded by a larger-than-life, multi-story chandelier—and Ryan’s own brother designed it!? “You wouldn’t believe how long that took to get done. He worked so hard on it! He lives in New York now, but every time I pass the Cosmopolitan, I can’t help but tell people about his work here in Vegas.”

New York, New York in Las Vegas

3. How to manage the creative process.

“My brother and I, we’re a lot alike in that way: we both need our creative outlets,” Ryan the actor/driver says. “But him, he channels his creativity onto paper in his work as an architect, whereas I’m an entertainer of sorts—depending on who you ask. So we both have that need to express ourselves, but if you were to put a piece of paper and a pencil in my hand, I would have no idea what to do with it.”  When I ask what kind of performer he is, I predict he’ll say he’s a comedian—it just seems like it would suit him—but his response is even better: he’s a stage actor.

Ryan performs in a well-known interactive musical that’s been produced all over the country. He does four shows a week, but there was a time when he’d do seven. I ask him if it’s hard to perform the same material night after night. “Well, since the nature of the show is interactive, about 30% of the script is just improv,” he says. “That really helps keep it fun and fresh every night. But right now I’m also in rehearsals for a production of A Few Good Men, and that one is tougher because the lines are the same night after night. That show is the ultimate challenge. It’s the hardest show I’ve ever done.”

Nevada desert near the Hoover Dam

4. How to skydive.

“Oh yes, I’ve gone skydiving,” Jose says casually in between pointing out famous sights just off the Strip. When he catches wind of my giddy reaction, he adds, “I don’t think I’d do it again though.” I ask if that’s because it was too scary—as much as I want to jump out of a plane, I’m also terrified by it. “Nah, I just wouldn’t want to pay for it again.” Skydiving is expensive, friends! “You jump with a pro who actually knows what he’s doing,” Jose tells me. “And they just strap you on and let him jump and do all the work.”

I pepper him with a slew of questions. “Were you scared when it came time to jump out of the plane? Did they tell you not to look down before jumping? Was it quiet up there in the sky?” I’ve long held a romantic notion of a stunning, silent glide to the surface, fueled by my father who insisted that jumping out of a plane, and the free fall that followed, provided the most complete and peaceful silence he’d ever experienced. “No!” Jose exclaimed, laughing . “It wasn’t quiet at all! The wind was howling everywhere!”

Cold brew coffee in Las Vegas

5. Where to stuff your face (natch.)

“There’s this place called Eat.,” Jay says as he drives us to the Neon Museum. He seems kind of shy, a man of few words, so I’m inclined to take his rare suggestion very seriously. “Maybe you should stop over there after you finish up at the museum. People come from all over the country to try their food.”

“Wait, it’s called ‘Eat’ as in e-a-t?” I ask.

“Yeah! Well, it also has a period at the end.”

 “What kind of food are they known for there?”

“I think just like, the craftsmanship they put into preparing everything. Like, not any one specific meal.”  Hmmm. I don’t really know what to do with such a vague recommendation, but it seems worth a shot. He appears to be a wise dude, after all.

Later, when we leave the museum, our bubbly new driver, Marina, ushers us to Downtown Las Vegas to find the place. All three of us peek out the windows and squint our eyes as we try to pick out buildings’ addresses in the desert sun. We finally pull up to a tidy, nondescript restaurant with a small bench in the front. That’s it? Still, we pile out of the car and hope for the best.

“Enjoy, sweetheart!” Marina calls out as she drives away.

It doesn’t take us long to realize that Jay was very, very right. I order a totally generic-seeming breakfast—coffee, eggs, toast, and potatoes—and it somehow manages to be the best breakfast I’ve ever had. How did they do that? Vegas, I’m a fan.

There’s Nothing Like Brooklyn In The Springtime

I started this spring in Brooklyn with a specific dream in mind: to make it to Sakura Matsuri, the annual cherry blossom festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. (Okay, so “dream” is kind of a lofty word for what could be more accurately described as “a particularly stubborn goal,” but bear with me here. I take my flower viewing very seriously, kay?)

Pink flower petals in Brooklyn

In a twist that’s probably to be expected, when the Sunday that I planned to go arrived, I woke up to a gray, rainy gloom-fest outside my window. Pair that with the burned-out state of myself and my would-be festival companions, and it became clear pretty quickly that there would be no blossom gazing in the gardens that day. I found out a few days later that droves of New Yorkers still braved the rain to turn out for the festival. Naturally, I felt a brief but intense twinge of regret and FOMO for not getting myself out to the garden. But! While I may not have had several hours to devote to standing outside in the frigid elements at the festival that Sunday, I did have 20 minutes to spend enjoying the great outdoors between the heavier bursts of rain on my way home from the grocery store.

Flower petals during spring in Brooklyn

After picking up my groceries (precisely enough to get me through the rest of my Sunday afternoon, to be exact), I took a detour at The Pratt Institute, which doubles as a pseudo-backyard for much of the neighborhood. On the cozy campus, I took a small army of grainy, haphazard phone photos before scurrying home to wriggle out of my soggy rain coat and wrap myself in blankets. (I did it all with a massive rain-soaked shopping bag full of crusty bread and off-brand cereal slung over my arm—how normcore chic of me). The photos are hazy from the fog on my camera lens, and the sky is a particularly ominous shade in every shot, but every time I see them, I smile.

Blossoms during spring in Brooklyn
When I look at the pictures, I don’t see the horrible weather. What I see is everything that happened in the days before and after that moment, the days when the sky was bright blue. The pictures are a reminder of those vibrant few weeks in early spring in Brooklyn when the mere existence of the first few leaves on the trees is the greatest gift; when candy-colored blossoms and tulips and softly falling petals dot the sidewalks. Those days seem to last only a millisecond before the tulips have disappeared and the blossoms on the trees have given way to lush green summer leaves. Blink and you’ll miss it, but for a few precious hours out of the year, the earth is reborn in real time, right before our eyes. The sense of new beginnings seeps into the city and onto the locals’ faces, and it’s not too much of stretch to imagine that this colorful magic trick is the world’s very public way of granting permission to each and every one of us to embark on a new path. You are not your past, the trees seem to whisper. That sign you were waiting for? This is it. Start fresh. Today.
Tulips during spring in Brooklyn

Flowers during spring in Brooklyn

Flowers during spring in Brooklyn

Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill Brooklyn

Flowers during spring in Brooklyn

Blossoms during spring in Brooklyn

Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill Brooklyn

Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill Brooklyn

Tulips during spring in Brooklyn

Boston In Bloom

Spring is finally here—well, sort of. In the Northeast, we’ve endured nearly a week of constant clouds and rain. While I’d like to say I’m not complaining (at least it’s not winter, right?), it’s definitely starting to get to me. So! Let’s celebrate the season with a few shots of Boston at its springtime finest. On a solo day trip from New York that some might call ill-fated (ahem, I prefer pleasantly detoured), I hopped the wrong train and, instead of arriving in the heart of Boston like I intended, found myself alone in the Massachusetts suburbs.

I missed a not-too-important appointment in the city, but it was far from the end of the world. Spring was in full bloom, the ‘burbs were an unexpectedly gorgeous storybook page, and I had the entire day to myself to gawk at the flowers. I eventually made my way back into the city to wander around Beacon Hill and the Public Garden, but that day wouldn’t have been half as much fun if my plans hadn’t gotten so derailed. The unexpected turn of it all felt so weird and magical. All this to say: life is strange and wonderful, so let’s all stare at some wildlife.

boston-pink-tulips

boston-blossoms

boston-beacon-hill

boston-magenta-flowers-feat

boston-spring-home

boston-windows

boston-white-tulips

boston-purple-flowers

boston-fill-a-buster

boston-steps-pink

boston-details

boston-kennedy

boston-yellow-tulips

boston-blooms

boston-park

boston-joy-street

Fifth Grade Mission: Accomplished

As an East Coast transplant surrounded by natives, something I learned very quickly is that nearly everyone who grew up in the tri-state area seemingly spent their childhoods being dragged on roughly half a dozen field trips to Philadelphia. Yes, that’s a big generalization, but if the looks of horror, disbelief, and secondhand shame I received whenever proclaiming I’d never been there are any indication, an annual tired shuffle past the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall was as second nature to these folks growing up as recess.

I had plenty of great experiences as a kid in the Midwest, thank you very much, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disillusioned by the fact that a destination so high on my bucket list was so heavily taken for granted by everyone I knew. There I was, gushing over how exciting it would be to stand face to face with such rich pieces of history (or, you know, just finally eat an authentic cheesesteak), and try as they might, my friends could only muster so much false enthusiasm for something they’d done a thousand times.

Imagine, then, my reaction when we mapped out our transportation plans to Lancaster and discovered we’d have to stop in Philly to pick up the car we’d use to get out to the country. I felt like I’d won the lottery! When we stepped off the bus from New York City, we found ourselves right across the street from the Liberty Bell. THE LIBERTY BELL! Oh hey, there’s the thing I stared at in picture books all through elementary school! The beautiful surrounding streets just added to the magic even more.

philadelphia

Despite the numerous field trips under their belts, my travel buddies humored me and joined me in a tourist-filled line to take a gander at the bell. We marveled at the fact that on a whim, we could simply saunter down the street out of our modern lives and straight into a treasured piece of history without so much as an entrance fee. Within minutes, we were staring at the bell head-on. It looked smaller than my childhood self imagined, but astounding nonetheless. The more striking sight, however, was the crowd of iPhones with humans attached to them blocking out a full view of the bell. What a strange ritual we partake in, desperately trying to capture something so heavily photographed that we could easily look at it anytime we pleased with a quick Google search. I guess we start to feel like beloved sights are only real if we take our own photo of it, no matter how mediocre the shot, as if that allows us to take a tiny piece of ownership home with us.

That made me….sad.

I am a frequent photographer no matter where I go, so it’s not as if I’m any more “evolved” than the gang I encountered, but just this once, I took a step back and simply committed the moment to memory. It was special enough on its own. The only picture I have of that afternoon features all the picture-takers stealing center stage, a tiny sliver of the bell visible between their flailing arms and glowing screens. That said, the three of us left swelling with patriotic pride, so I guess the bell is doing its job right!

Note to self: never take my childhood field trips (or any adventures, for that matter) for granted. Someone else out there has been waiting their whole life to see a sight that’s part of my own backyard!

Oh, and I finally ate a damn cheesesteak.

philadelphia-cheesesteak

It was worth the wait.

Escape To Lancaster County

The most vital thing Pennsylvanians have taught me about their state is that their winters are somehow not accompanied by a 24/7 blanket of gray sky. To a Michigan girl like myself, the notion of actually seeing sun during the colder months is about as close to heaven as it can get, so it didn’t take much to keep my mind open about getting to know the area better. Myself and my two fellow travelers, a little gang of three, marveled at the PA highways on our drive from Brooklyn to Lancaster. How the hell are the roadsides so green? What’s with all this…nature?

As our drive further west gave way to wide open fields and farms, it was hard not to gape. Too much time in the city starts to make the most commonplace of natural scenery seem like a museum exhibit, so being faced with miles upon miles of rolling hills and cornstalks felt like we’d stepped into another universe. Even the view from the gas station – a lush field framed by distant trees and foothills – was breathtaking. When we turned a corner and found ourselves sharing the road with a horse and buggy, we knew we weren’t in Brooklyn anymore. Are we in a fever dream?

lancaster

My only tangible clue of what to expect in this part of the country was my beloved quillow, allegedly made with love by the residents of Amish country (and gifted to me by my beloved teacher aunt who’s field-tripped there with her students one too many times).

“Quillows,” I kept declaring from the backseat, despite the fact that our whirlwind plans for the weekend left zero time for a true Amish experience. “We have to buy some quillows! And jam. Definitely jam.”

lancaster-farm

We pulled up to a sprawling farm in a Lancaster County town of 5,000 people, waving hello to horses and cows and a massive living pillow/farm dog as we maneuvered through the gravel driveway. I was immediately greeted by the fresh, welcoming smell of the air. I was painfully aware of the clarity of my own breath. How could a place so peaceful even exist at the same time as the loud, frantic city I go to sleep in most nights back on the coast? We stood on a hill next to the property’s barn and watched the sky change colors as the cows played nearby. When nightfall came, we gazed up at more stars than we could have ever dreamed, each one bright and twinkling and full of a life of its own.

lancaster-sunshine

lancaster-sunset

In short: I was sold on PA.

Impossibly enough, things only got better and better. When we at last ventured into downtown Lancaster that night, I learned I’d spent my life pronouncing the name all wrong (I’m told it goes a little something like “Lank-IS-ter”) before exploring the community’s cozy streets, which were alive with vivid storefronts and locals out and about enjoying their Saturday nights.

We checked into a spiffy friend-recommended establishment called the Lancaster Arts Hotel, after which I discovered that our room was essentially a real-life recreation of the New York City woman-about-town studio apartment I dreamed of when I was around thirteen – hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, a dreamy shower – I was in heaven.

lancaster-hotel

lancaster-arts-hotel

So, the Narnia version of New York City exists here? Sure, I couldn’t have a stunning exposed brick studio in the big city, but here I could have all that plus a “room stylist” who believed in my dreams (thanks Julia!) and could even be freely referred to as an artist, luxuries that are all but nonexistent for a run-of-the-mill New York millennial.

The next morning at last allowed an hour or so to wander through Lancaster in daylight. We knew we’d have to come back again someday to explore all the nooks and crannies we missed this time around, but we tried to scratch as much of the surface as we could manage.

lancaster-town

lancaster-veggies

A stroll through the quiet side streets, with their beautiful historic homes and cheerful residents out front working on their cars and shuffling to the farmer’s market with their kids and walking the dog launched me into my biweekly daydream of ditching the big city for a return to suburban life.

On our drive home, I tried to force myself to focus on all the positives waiting for me back in Brooklyn, but it was tough. It just seemed all too easy (and all too tempting) to say “peace out, real life” and jump out of the car to plant myself among those farms and rolling hills indefinitely, where I’d spend my days breathing in fresh air and my nights staring up at the stars.

If only for two days, PA thrust me into a much slower pace of living (note to self, quell temper when waiting for Lancaster cabs to arrive) and a full-body exhale. In fact, perhaps Lancaster had no real pace at all – and that’s exactly what this burned-out city mouse needed. Isn’t that what we all need every now and then?

Most of my time was spent deliciously lost in the depths of farmland, but in my brief venture to civilization, I loved Annie Bailey’s Pub and the delightful Lemon Street Market – pay them a visit!