Solo Trip to Amsterdam

Okay so I’ve fallen WAY behind in blogging so in an effort to get back on schedule, I’m backtracking starting at summer 2017…

When I started my job at Spotify and was told that I would be attending “Intro Days” in Stockholm. Knowing that they only hold Intro Days four times a year (February, June, August, November), I felt very lucky to be getting the chance to go to Europe in August (no snow, woohoo!). With such luck, I decided to maximize my time abroad and brainstorm which other city I could squeeze in time to visit. After juggling options and asking around, I felt Amsterdam would be perfect spot for a laidback solo trip.

Day 1 – First Impressions

I landed in Amsterdam and was able to easily navigate my way from the airport to my hotel using public transportation. Upon arrival I checked into The Student Hotel, located in Wibautstraat. While the hotel housed travelers, it also served as a permanent living space for students and provided a working space for professional creatives. I liked the fun and young communal vibe.

After taking a moment to lay down and regroup (I never sleep on the planes) I figured the best way to adjust to the time difference was to get up and go out. I figured I’d also tackle the most touristy activity first–a canal boat ride! In Amsterdam you can take an evening canal ride from 7pm until midnight and enjoy a glass of wine along with it. So that’s what I did–somehow I managed to stay up until midnight listening to the history of Amsterdam while cruising through the canals. While difficult to capture on camera, the city was beautiful at night.

Before the boat ride I wondered around the city and was surprised by the diversity in the city. With a prominent black community I didn’t feel like I stood out like a sore thumb, but I honestly feel like a saw all races, religions and shades represented in Amsterdam. That evening I walked past several art performances in the streets that all centered around the themes of ACCEPTANCE and EQUALITY.

 

Day 2 – Biking Everywhere

I expected to see lots of bikes in Amsterdam but I didn’t comprehend how many bikes would be whizzing by. While Amsterdam has reliable public transportation, cars, and Uber, the majority of locals opt for their bikes. So I rented a bike from the hotel to visit as many of the different neighborhoods of Amsterdam that I could squeeze in one day. That included: Canal Ring, Centrum, Oost, Jordaan, Noord and probably several others that I don’t know the names of.

In the Canal Ring I visited Bloemenmarkt, a flower market, and walked down a never-ending strip of tulips. I also walked through the Cheese Museum (seriously) and admired all the cheese from a distance. In Jordaan I treated myself to stroopwafels, a heavenly Dutch cookie made with caramel, waffles (and love). By Centrum I walked into Greenhouse Cafe and people-watched (calm down, mom) locals openly smoking weed, or as it was only refer to it there, cannabis. I took a ferry to Noord where I headed to A’DAM Lookout, which provided amazing views of the entire city. I biked all the way to NDSM Werf, where I thought I had made a wrong turn because I found myself alone with a bunch of empty warehouses. Turns out I was in the right spot because toward the water were restaurants and bars with games and music for those who dared to venture off the beaten path. I ended the day at Vondelpark where I realized how tired I was after a full day of biking and walking.

I ended the day at spot called, Pancake Corner, which sold sweet and savory giant pancakes. I got the shrimp and spinach pancake and it hit the spot! Actually, didn’t end the day there; I somehow mustered up more energy to head out that night to a jazz spot in the center of town. I can’t recall the name but it was enjoyable. And yes, at 2am people were still riding to and from the bars on their bikes.

Day 3 – All Day Art

I purposely saved all the museums for the chilly, rainy day. I started at the FOAM Museum, which had an exhibit of Gordon Parks’ photography. It was interesting being in Amsterdam viewing art all centered around Harlem, my current home.

On my way to the next museum I passed through the neighborhood of De Pijp and ran into Albert Cuypmarkt, which is a foodies dream! Oh my goodness, so many tasty renditions of pancakes and waffles! I recorded several vendors making fresh stroopwafels with warm caramel. My mouth is watering thinking about it. You could also find clothes, souvenirs, seafood, nuts and sandwiches in the market. When I finally reached Museumplein, where various prestigious museums are located, I chose to go to the Rijksmuseum, which is a 19th-century building housing Dutch Golden Age painting masterpieces. Also in the area are the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum.

I returned back De Pijp to pig out on a full rack of ribs (I was SO hungry) at Cafe de Pjip. Re-energized, I decided to hit up one last museum for the day–the Anne Frank Huis. I don’t want to go through all the details as to why, but this was by far my favorite museum in Amsterdam. I left with tears but feeling so fortunate to have been able to walk through the house where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years.

Be forewarned, this museum seems to be a favorite to others as well. I came at the end of the day since hoping to miss the crowd. When I arrived at 8pm I still had to wait an hour to enter. Still, well worth it. In fact in while waiting a Dutch man came and started playing “Despacito” on the violin. All the locals knew the Spanish words; it was great. That night while scrolling through social media I learned about the white supremacists in Charlottesville. It was (and still is) eery, sad and very scary. Please, visit the Anne Frank House while in Amsterdam and tell others to do the same.

Day 4 – Dutch Countryside

On my last full day in Amsterdam I was excited to venture out to Old Holland, specifically Zaanse Schanse and Volendam. I wasn’t sure how to get to either town but after wandering through Central Station I found a bus that was stopping at both. I hopped on and decided to see where it would take me.

First stop was Zaanse Schanse. It’s a very touristy so I recommend getting there early before all the crowds arrive. It’s dressed up to mirror old Dutch lifestyle with windmills, old-fashioned bakeries and clog shops. In each space there is a shop that showcases how

After the crowds started getting out of hand in Zaanse Schanse I decided it was time to hop on the bus to Volendam. It was a perfect day for strolling down the boardwalk and tasting different chocolates and caramel treats. People anchored their boats at the dock and just laid out for a perfect day of sunshine.

That evening I had dinner at Moeder’s, which is Mother’s in Dutch. If you’re looking for some comfort food, I recommend stopping by.

All in all I highly recommend Amsterdam for a solo traveling woman. The city is easy to navigate, the people are friendly, and you can easily get by only speaking English.

Let me know if you have any plans to visit Amsterdam!

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Escape to Cartagena

If you know me, you know that I desperately try to get these blog posts out in a timely manner but I often fall short. Therefore let’s pretend I just stepped off the plane  rather than three weeks ago and  I am freshly reflecting on my time relaxing oceanside in Cartagena, Colombia. Traveling to Cartagena was the result of a sporadic desire for excitement. Needing some spontaneity in my life, I decided to venture to South America, a continent I hadn’t visited before. Why Cartagena? I ran across a JetBlue vacation package and to be honest, the Google images looked cool. So I convinced Alejandro, my friend and Spanish-speaking confidante to join, packed my bathing suit and bug spray, and we were set for our South American adventure.

 

Day 1 – Much-Needed Island Breeze

The flight to Cartagena from New York was an easy 5-hour direct trip. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with a THICK layer of humidity and 85-degree weather. The temperature was 40 degrees when we left New York so we were sweating our way through customs. The hotel picked us up from CGA airport and shuttled us to Hotel Las Americas where we loved our stay. Because the Colombian peso goes much further than the American dollar we were able to afford the 5-star accommodations (flips hair). The hotel is located in La Boquilla, a fishing village in Cartagena that is about 5 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes from the city center. The beaches are calm and quiet and there’s plenty of fresh fish to go around.

After we spent time lounging by the pool and enjoying a delicious dinner, we headed into the Walled City to watch the sunset at Cafe del Mar, a popular outdoor destination to grab a drink and listen to music. We caught the sunset just in time as you can see from pictures!

 


 

Day 2 – Colorful Cartagena

The following day we headed to Old Town to wander through the streets of central Cartagena. It’s as though the city was frozen in time hundreds of years ago. The architecture remains intact and the bold colors pop from one building to the next. We wandered past hostels, shops, and soccer viewing parties on the way to Castillo San Felipe, a castle built on the hill of San Lazaro. Once we climbed up the fortress we made our way through a complex system of tunnels. Once on top of the fort we were able to get a great view of the city.

Afterward, we grabbed lunch at Cande, an upscale Caribbean restaurant with live music and dancing. As became routine, I ordered some form of  fresh seafood and ceviche for each and every meal while in Cartagena. In fact, I could build a complete slideshow all the dishes of fish I devoured with a mojito on the side. What’s special about Cande is that 100% of the food comes from Cartagena.

After a long day we decided to head back out to the “Infamous” Cafe Havana, where we enjoyed delicious arepas, mojitos and lots of salsa dancing. We were hinted that there is always live music at Cafe Havana so I definitely recommend visiting!

 


 

Day 3 – Rolling in the Mud

This excursion was something that I had seen online and from the pictures, I knew this was something I really wanted to partake in. Where and when else would I be covered head to toe in mineral-infusing mud? Only at Volcan de Lodo el Totumo.

The day started with an hour bus ride from our hotel to the outskirts of Cartagena. We pulled up to a small village where there a small home with lockers would hold our belongings. Before packing up our valuables, we (Alejandro) gave our phones and cameras to one of the many workers  who would take pictures of us in the volcano. Of course, we were initially nervous about this set up but they did a great job of not mixing up any phones and producing quality pictures.

We climbed up the very steep steps of the volcano and one by one, climbed down the ladder into the mud. You can tell by my facial expressions below that I initially did not know how to feel. There were lots in people in the space with us and the mud was warm so I tried to tune out all thoughts of what could be in this mud. Also, we were floating which caused some balance issues as we were constantly tipped over. We got some good laughs out of the situation.

As we exited the volcano someone scraped the mud off and guided us down the other set of very steep stairs to the river. Once dipping in the river the mud came off fairly easily. After drying off and grabbing a snack, we were back on the bus to head to La Boquilla to enjoy (another) pescado (fish)/tostones (plantains)/arroz de coco (coconut rice) lunch and a beach day with our tour group.

Later than evening we jumped on the Chiva Night Rumba Tour. The Chiva tour is catered to tourists who are visiting Cartagena.  Think NY City tour bus but with rum and live music…and arepas. So I guess it’s not like the NY City tour bus…

The bus stops at various hotels across Bocagrande to pump up tourists for an entertaining sightseeing tour around Cartagena. Depending on the seating arrangement, you’re placed in small groups to share a bottle of Aguardiente rum. You can see us (kinda) dancing in our seats as the mariachi band performs in the back. We were the first stop so by the end of the night the bus was packed.

Heads up, the tour is completely in Spanish, which is why once again, I was fortunate to have my handy dandy translator, Alejandro, to help me understand what the heck the tour was about. My favorite part was when they called me out as the girl from los Estados Unidos and asked me to get up and dance and I had no idea. After my awkward hesitation I think everyone realized I was the one person on the bus who didn’t speak Spanish.

Half way through the tour we stopped in the Walled City where other Chiva tours were parked for arepas and more live music. After jumping back on the bus the last stop left us at a night club that was a drop off point for all other Chiva tours. So imagine a club full of rum-infused tourists. Yes, it was a fun night.

 

 


 

Day 4 – Playa Blanca

Obviously we couldn’t go to Colombia without spending a full day laying at one of the Caribbean beaches. While there are many beaches to choose from, we chose probably the most popular, Playa Blanca.

Once again, we were picked up for about an hour bus ride to the beach. The beaches of Playa Blanca on the Island of Baru are completely different from the beaches of Cartagena. It looks like Caribbean water with the bright blue colors. Once there you can grab a beach chair,  umbrella, and a locker to head out into the water. Some popular activities include snorkeling, jetskiing, scuba diving, . We decided to go on the private snorkeling tour where they even took pictures of us underwater, BUT unfortunately we forgot to pick up the pictures before we left so pretend this was us:

Lunch was provided after our snorkeling adventure and guess what was on the menu? Yep, pescado, tostones, y arroz de coco–my favorite staple! After lunch there was a free happy hour with rum, vodka and tequila. Free was especially great because by this point we had run out of cash (there’s story about this as you scroll down). In the late afternoon we headed back to the hotel very very sunburnt but relaxed.

We ended the evening in the city center with dinner at La Cocina de Cartagena, where I had my usual–you guessed, it, pescado, tostones y arroz de coco con un mojito! There was live music at this restaurant as well and fireworks went off as we were heading out. We never found out why there were fireworks but it was a fitting finale to our trip.

 


 

Tips for Traveling to Cartagena

  • Convert your cash at the airport: There aren’t many ATMs in Cartagena and when the ATM in our hotel broke down (luckily on the last day) we were left with the cash we had in our pockets. Unfortunately, that’s when we were headed to the beach where everything had to be paid in cash. We were strugglingFortunately at the beach Alejandro was able to negotiate so we could afford the beach chairs, snorkeling and locker rental, which brings me to my next point…
  • Speak Spanish: Everyone, including the hotel staff, only spoke Spanish. Most people visiting Cartagena are from other South American countries and very few are from the U.S. or Europe. We met a few people along the way who could speak about as much English as I can speak Spanish (which isn’t much) but I’d have been screwed if Alejandro hadn’t been my translator!
  • Pack light: I’ve already mentioned how hot and humid Cartagena is so I’d only recommend loose and light clothing.
  • Must love fish: Every single meal I ate was fish, plantains and arroz de coco which I loved. If you’re a fish person, you’ll love Cartagena!
  • Purchase your excursions in Cartagena, not in advance: If you look up some of the excursions online you’ll see that you can reserve a tour in advance. No need to do that, the hotel and hostels will set you up once you arrive and walk you through the day and the options. It’s also cheaper to purchase the tours in Cartagena rather than online ahead of time.
  • It’s ColOmbia, not ColUmbia: Columbia is the university in Harlem, Colombia is the South American country. Don’t mix it up!

I loved visiting Cartagena and was surprised by how many people I knew had already been! Let me know if you’re planning to visit Cartagena any time soon!

Who Am I? My Ancentry.com Results

img_2345“What are you?” is a question I’m often asked and when I respond “black” it never seems to satisfy those who are so curious. I always get nudged to further explain my ethnicity (which is annoying by the way) but the fact of the matter is, I’ve never fully known. I’ve known that I have African and European traces on my father’s side and African and Native American on my mother’s. Yet it bothered me that I didn’t know details of where my African lineage traced back to. It’s not uncommon for media, or society in general, to refer to Africa as a homogeneous land without differentiating the countries and cultures within the massive continent (there are 54 recognized countries, 2,000 languages spoken and over 1.1 billion citizens within Africa).

It almost felt as though understanding and claiming my specific African roots would help debunk the myth that the entirety of Africa and African culture are identical. I also strongly identify as African American and an important part of our history is slavery. As one can imagine, slavery stripped us of our tribes, culture,  traditions, and ultimately the ability to track our African ancestry and details of our ethnicity. Getting my DNA results felt like I was taking back something that was brutally stolen from me and my family.

Therefore on my birthday this year I requested an AncestryDNA test to discover a small piece of my ancestors. Once I received the kit I simply had to provide a saliva sample and ship it back to the lab (which was complimentary by the way). Within 2 or 3 weeks I received an email stating that my results were in.

Before I revealed the results to my curious family, my parents gave their guesses:

Mom: 70% African, 15% European, 15% Native American

Dad: 65% African, 30% European, 5% Native American

The final results were as follows:

62% African, 36% European, 2% Asian

dna-map

You can see in the left tab that the majority of my DNA traces to Ivory Coast/Ghana (26%), Cameroon/Congo (17%) and Ireland (14%). Sorry mom, no traces of any Native American in my blood; not even one percent! I must say, that was unsurprising to me (I feel like everyone claims that they’re Native American) but of course surprising to my mother. What I was not expecting was any traces of Asian ancestry, especially since my DNA was mapped to India and the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Uzbekistan region. Although just 2% is apparent, it does make me curious about where that came from! Of course it was very valuable learning about my specific African ancestry: I was traced back to 9 African regions.

What’s also worthwhile about Ancestry.com is that based on your DNA, they’ll match you to other people who have taken the test who are believed to be related to you. The first person who popped up for me was my first cousin so I trust the accuracy.

At this point almost everyone in my family has now requested an Ancestry kit for Christmas since they’ve been so intrigued with the results. This excites me because if my parents take the test I’ll have a better understanding of my maternal and paternal history and which side my results derive from.

Overall I’m very happy that I decided to get the test and learn more about my family and myself. There’s definitely a relief in taking back something that is so personal to me.

Books Reccos You Can Thank Me For Later

As a kid I was an adamant reader–in fact, competitive. I took my reading duties very seriously. Each year I “won” amongst my classmates for most AR points and most books read throughout the year.  Before I went to sleep I would always read new stories in bed.

tumblr_nlgt2q4aza1qbrtzvo1_1280Unfortunately I fell out of this habit (thank you technology for my decreased attention span) but one item that has rekindled my love of reading has been my handy dandy library card. I caught myself being the girl who would “test read” books at the Barnes & Nobles but actually finished them in a single sitting….without purchasing the book. So in an attempt to be more ethical,  I got a library card when I moved to New York. It’s provided me endless access to books without the need to hide in a corner pretending that I am not in fact reading an entire book free of purchase. Therefore I’m constantly wandering through the many Manhattan bookshelves grabbing as many books as I can carry home. A few of my favorite finds are below:


issa-rae_book-cover

1. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl  – Issa Rae

Comical

I have been a fan of Issa since 2010 when I discovered her “Awkward Black Girl” web series. If you’re a fan Issa’s productions (she recently launched Insecure, a new HBO show) then you’ll definitely be a fan of her book and there’s a reason it’s at the top of my list.

 

51osr0cuxbl-_sx329_bo1204203200_2. It’s Not About Perfect – Shannon Miller

Inspirational

As a former gymnast myself I am especially intrigued by the life stories of accomplished Olympic gymnasts. Shannon Miller, a part of the Magnificent Seven who brought home the first USA team gold at the ’96 Olympics, shares how she used lessons learned from competing in gymnastics to fight cancer later in life.

 

41juac3j6jl-_sx330_bo1204203200_3. Off Balance – Dominique Moceanu

Inspirational, Reflective

Another intriguing gymnast story, Dominique Moceanu opens up about her broken family life and the abuse she experienced training for & competing in the 1996 Olympics. Later in adulthood Moceanu receives a letter from a fan claiming she is her long lost full-blood sister — and looks just like her! That’s not even the full extent of plot this twist but you’ll have to read to find out more.

 

notes-to-boys-lightbox-mar-25-2014-copy14. Notes to Boys – Pamela Ribon

Comical, Inspirational

I really enjoyed this book due to the writing style the author adopted. Teenage Pamela Ribon was a hopeless romantic who would not only write profoundly dramatic notes to boys, but also write a copy for her records. Readers will wince reading young Pamela’s old notes & poetry that are coupled with present day commentary for laughs.

 

mindy-kaling-why-not-me5. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Comical

Since The Office days I have loved everything Mindy has put her hands on and this book is no different. In her second book, Mindy shares the awkward and uncomfortable moments that come along with being “kinda famous.”

 

04806bb43e423cf0fb78f8d4c93308bf6. Everybody’s Got Something – Robin Roberts

Inspirational

Good Morning America host, Robin Roberts, recounts her journey fighting cancer in the wake of being a well-known TV figure. Throughout the book Robin reminds viewers that regardless of money, race, religion or background someone always is going/has gone/will go through trials & tribulations.

 

151116-year-of-yes-shonda-rhimes-1119a_b87c344671869b5d6f178c0f5e6d8cf3-nbcnews-ux-2880-10007. Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

Comical, Inspirational

Readers finally get a look into TV producer/powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes’ personal life as she shares her journey to inner-confidence. Painfully shy, Shonda reveals how she hid behind her characters and storylines, that is until she made a commitment to say “yes” to all new opportunities–including those of utmost discomfort.

 

51guq6zjyol-_sy344_bo1204203200_8. What I Know For Sure – Oprah Winfrey

Reflective

Everything Oprah touches turns to gold in my eyes so of course I enjoyed reading words of wisdom from Mother O. Because hello, it’s OPRAH. No more explanation necessary. Thank you Mother O for blessing us commoners with a book filled with your wisdom.

 

modern-romance-aziz-ansara-book-cover9. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari

Reflective, Comical

As I read Aziz Ansari’s book all I kept repeating in my head was “SO TRUE.” Aziz truly does his research analyzing and uncovering the world of modern dating, showcasing how and why this generation’s dating world completely unlike any others’ due to technology. He brings light to the unique benefits and struggles we face and how we can all improve.

 

51blvmfngyl-_sx330_bo1204203200_10. Cinderella Ate My Daughter – Peggy Orenstein

Comical, Reflective

Raising a 3-year-old daughter, Peggy Orenstein questions the world of pink and princess fluff that her toddler seems innately drawn toward. Is it all harmless or will the messaging harm young girls’ self-esteem? With humor, Orenstein asks these questions and raises concerns about how princess culture leads to the sexualization of girlhood.

 

220px-quietbookcover11. Quiet – Susan Cain

Reflective

The full title of this book is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” Growing up I was always under the impression that extroverts were favored to introverts, which resulted in a lot of awkward and uncomfortable situations. This book shares all the crucial traits and skills introverts bring to the table and how society suffers if we force everyone into extroversion.

 

living-forward12. Living Forward – Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy

ReflectiveInspirational

If you’re looking for a step by step guide to plan for your future, this book will provide the exercises to get your priorities in line and live the life you’re purposed for. Authors provide personal exercises that will readers stop drifting and instead live with purpose.

 

If you have any book recommendations please let me know!