How To Move

Welcome to Brooklyn Heights

Welcome to Brooklyn Heights

I have moved a lot in my life. Apparently, I still don't know what I'm doing. 

Yesterday, I moved from Boerum Hill to Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood I have always deeply loved. But that's not the point. 

The book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" has been all the rage for awhile now. You are supposed to hold every item you own and see if it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, you toss it. 

Well, as my friend Dayna, an amazing professional organizer, said "You need certain things that won't spark joy, like toilet paper." Exactly. 

And sometimes you can't afford to throw out everything you own if it doesn't spark joy (hello, ten-year-old Target nightstands). You slowly replace those things. 

But the beautiful organic cotton linens I bought at a market in Paris on my honeymoon? Tossed. The relationship is over and every time I looked at them, I thought "Oh, I bought those in Paris with him." I didn't have a negative reaction - but do I need to think that every time I see them? No. On to Goodwill. 

Let's talk about memory boxes. I am a big believer in throwing out REALLY bad photos of yourself. Of course, you need a few photos of the bad haircut from ninth grade or the ridiculous clothing you wore. But in a digital world, would you keep bad photos of yourself? Of course not. Gone. 

I am planning on digitizing all of the old photos I am keeping - I have a million from high school and college. But I don't need hard copies - I will never frame them or blow them up poster-size. Of course, I will keep copies of really special photos. But the rest - tossing. 

Just THROW STUFF OUT. Donate it (like my 150+ DVDs), recycle, or toss it. 

On the day of your move: 

  • Always have a roll of paper towels and a bottle of multi-purpose cleaner. Do you know how much dust gathers in a year, let alone three or more years, even if you have a housecleaner? It's disgusting. You are going to want to spray down your bookshelves and furniture. 
  • Go through your place and collect all remotes, chargers, computers, phones, and cords. Put them in ONE bag. I am currently missing my laptop charger and my Apple TV remote. #dumb
  • I thought I was smart and I'd have one suitcase of clothes packed and one bag of really important/valuable items, like my passport. But then I kept tossing important items into separate bags because so much seemed "important." This turned into, like, ten "important" bags and zero clue as to what is in each bag. 
  • Order pizza on your first night, obviously! Thanks, Front Street Pizza in Brooklyn, for an amazing first-night pie. 

Any tips to add? Do you have a service you've used for digitizing your photos? 

Swiss palm trees, Italian-speaking: Lugano, Switzerland

Sunset in Lugano

Sunset in Lugano

A confession: I love the German-speaking parts of Switzerland so much that I never really cared about seeing the Italian-speaking part, a region called Ticino. I never had enough time and I wanted chalets, alpine meadows, and the guttural, poetic sound of the German language - I've loved the language for as long as I can remember. But on my last trip, I took the train from Zurich to Lugano when I landed to meet Alex as he was finishing a conference.

Italy is so interwined with this part of Switzerland -  Lake Como is just 45 minutes away by car (where we then spent three nights).  "It feels Italian, but it actually works," I texted my friend. I arrived on a rare rainy day and it was still a beautiful sight - paddleboats, swans, the Old Town meeting the promenade on the lake, the mountains of San Salvatore and Monte Brè.

Lugano flower shop

Lugano flower shop

We also took the train 20 minutes to the town of Bellinzona to meet Alex's friends for brunch. The Saturday market was kind of "eh" but the town and castle are super cute.

In Lugano:
Grand Café al Porto:
This doesn't have the totally-cozy-European-cafe feel that I love, but it's still worth a stop (and a cappuccino). Look for the "1803" above the fireplace - the date this historic cafe opened.

Grand Cafe al Porto

Grand Cafe al Porto

Gabbani: A series of gourmet food shops and a small market in Lugano - local cheese & olive bread was a great post-flight, post-train lunch.

Gabbani market

Gabbani market

Piazza della Riforma: The main piazza in Lugano, with the big yellow city hall. This is where I inhaled my jet-lagged, people-watching Gabbani lunch.

City Park: This is such a beautifully landscaped park - gardens to wander, a pink villa in the center of it all, and a promenade along the lake.

City Park

City Park

La Tinera: I was told the best places to eat in Lugano are the grottos outside of town. Since we only had one night, we stayed in the center and ate at La Tinera, tucked behind the main piazza. All the restaurants near the center will have an element of "touristy" and this one was no exception. However, the owner was charming, the wine was delicious, and spring asparagus with two fried eggs=perfect.

La Lanchetta: After dinner, we took a long walk through the city park and found this super buzzy spot on the lake for dessert. A great place to eat right on the lake and I'm guessing we were the only visitors.

Hotel Lugano Dante: I loved this hotel. The room was tiny but among many pluses: a wonderful bed, a small, breezy window overlooking the Old Town, convenient location (7-minute walk downhill from the train station + two-minute walk from the main piazza), super friendly staff, and dog-friendly - made me wish I had my dog!

Plus, a photo from Bellinzona:

A Word About Divorce

Last week, I found out my divorce is final. We were two 33-year-old humans, who had known each other since we were 20 years old, and decided that we no longer wanted to be married. It was as simple as that and as complicated as that. Even with agreeing on everything, it still took nearly 7 months for the court to finalize our divorce. We had separated long before that.

So - we haven’t been together for a long time. But seeing “Judgement Granted” on the court’s website made me think about everything again.

Divorce is one of the ugliest words in the world, isn’t it? It comes with so many stigmas - you quit too soon, you don’t know what marriage means, you don’t know how to stick with something, etc.

We got married at City Hall. We filled out one page of paperwork and they asked if we were related (uh, no). 24 hours later, we were allowed to be married. But with our divorce, we had hundreds of pages of paperwork to fill out. HUNDREDS.

Going through this has made me far less judgmental, and FAR more sure of my decisions. I make decisions quickly but I trust my gut, finally.

I’ve had so many more people confide in me - their secrets, their struggles, their dreams. I understand why people hold on, try to control the only things they have left to control, and spiral into versions of themselves they don’t want to be. And yet - why do we make it more painful on ourselves? When it’s over, it is over. Why would you WANT to be with someone who doesn’t love and cherish you like you should be loved and cherished?

I tell everyone that I have the best ex-husband in the world. This is true, but also complicated. I don’t believe we will be friends for a long time. I hope we will be. At many points, I thought I could never survive without him in my life. And yet, I’ve made it.

He said to me once - “You were brave enough to do the thing I never would have done.”

I hope our divorce reflects our great friendship, our great love, and the many trials and tribulations we went through together - a respectful, terribly challenging, and ultimately right decision.

The Crumbling, Brilliant City of Yangon

My trip to Asia over New Year's was centered around sailing on the new Strand Cruise on the Irrawaddy River. But first, we spent two nights in Yangon (Rangoon). Myanmar (Burma) has been on my radar since it opened to the world in 2011 after decades of isolation under oppressive military rule. Visitors started pouring in to see stunning temples and unspoiled landscapes. But the tourism infrastructure has had trouble keeping up with the demand.

Our time in Yangon was utterly magical, because it was so unlike anywhere else I'd ever been. The Strand Cruise is the sister experience to the iconic Strand Hotel (built in 1901), where we stayed. It is one of those totally evocative hotels where the wood creaks a little bit when you walk and you're transported back to the height of what I picture as total British colonial glamour.

I was completely obsessed with the sign at the bar: "Please be informed that smoking is allowed in The STRAND bar for traditional reasons. Thank you for your kind understanding."

The sign in The Strand Lobby Bar

The sign in The Strand Lobby Bar

The Strand Lobby

The Strand Lobby

Lovely, comfortable suite at The Strand Hotel

Lovely, comfortable suite at The Strand Hotel

Some more highlights of our time in Yangon:

  • Booking an in-room massage at The Strand Hotel
  • Venturing out to the dark city of Yangon, with crumbling but beautiful buildings and people sitting on tiny tables on sidewalks eating street food
  • Visiting the Pomelo store, a bright and cheerful shop filled with cool products like jewelry, frames, bags, and blankets. But best of all, the proceeds directly benefit the local artisans that made the products, many of whom are struggling with poverty and illness. It's open late and makes a great stop before dinner at Monsoon next door.
  • Dinner at Monsoon, a charming restaurant with a huge menu - whether you feel like Western food or tasting Thai, Laotian, or Burmese cuisine, this menu has it.
  • The leisurely, delicious breakfast at The Strand Hotel
  • The kind concierge at The Strand who helped plan and map out our entire day and even booked Alex a haircut at La Source spa. I got a 30-minute shoulder massage here, which was incredible.
The best haircut of his life!

The best haircut of his life!

  • The shops at The Strand - you'll want to try on rings and buy artwork in the hotel's shops, one of the best shopping sources in the city.
Cool Buddhas in The Strand Hotel's River Gallery of art

Cool Buddhas in The Strand Hotel's River Gallery of art

  • Finding our amazing driver, Mr. T, outside The Strand. We hired him on a whim. I needed to see a lot in one day and for 8 hours, he drove around hitting everything on my list. Very reasonable and he speaks great English. (see my Myanmar guide for contact info)
  • Buying a birthstone ring at Emerald Gems (the main gem market was closed when we were there). Myanmar is known for peridots, and I wear my gold-and-green "August" ring every day. You'll get a 15% discount if you bring cash.
Emerald Gems

Emerald Gems

  • Stopping for a cold drink at Acacia Tea Salon - Yangon's British history means that afternoon tea is still popular. I loved this patisserie, which also serves lunch. The second floor has a small balcony with one table and if it's not too hot, this is the place to be.
Second floor balcony at Acacia Tea Salon

Second floor balcony at Acacia Tea Salon

  • Admiring the architecture - Much of the architecture in central Yangon dates from the period of British rule which lasted from 1824 to the creation of Burma in 1948. There is a struggle to save these historic buildings, and if preservation efforts succeed, it will only make the city more appealing. Without these buildings, the city would not be as fascinating.
  • Meeting a fortune teller who changed my life. Before I left for Myanmar, my friend, National Geographic photographer Catherine Karnow, sent me the business card of a fortune teller in Yangon (written entirely in Burmese). A comedy of errors ensued, after calling the number on the card and finding out she had changed addresses. Depending on who we talked to, the new one either didn't exist or was "impossible" to find in a "maze" of streets. But with the help of the Strand Hotel staff, one amazing driver, and some locals on the street, we were able to find her, on a quiet residential street (most of Yangon's fortune tellers are clustered around the Shwedagon Pagoda). She spoke no English so our intrepid driver Mr. T also served as translator the best he could. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt, I cried because she just KNEW so many things. She is a true fortune teller in the most magical sense. But....she will only be at this address for another "year or so" so if I return, it will be another adventure to find her.
  • Rangoon Tea House - the hippest place in town for a drink and live music.
  • Reclining Buddha (Chauk Htat Gyi)
Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

  • Sule Pagoda - You won't miss this beautiful temple if you're in downtown Yangon - it's in the center of everything.
  • The mind-bogglingly beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda. I could have stayed for several hours here. Come in the late afternoon and stay for sunset to watch the light change on the brilliant gold of the temples.
Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

The adventure continued at the Yangon airport, where we boarded a 6am flight to Bagan's Nyaung U Airport to board our ship.

Everything about the airport reminded me I was thousands of miles from home, and so far from everything that I knew to be normal. I LOVED it for those reasons. The building seemed stuck-in-time, with huge old-school scales where you could weigh your luggage (or yourself), one Western-style restaurant, and one local restaurant where people slurped down noodles. "Tickets" were different colored stickers that we stuck on our clothes. Then we nervously searched for fellow passengers wearing our color to group up with them so we wouldn't miss our flight. It was definitely organized chaos.

My favorite airplane slogan ever is Yangon Airways' "You're safe with us." This mantra was plastered on the seat cushions, the snack boxes, and on the planes themselves. It was an easy and safe (of course!) journey to Bagan.

You're Safe With Us

You're Safe With Us

Adventures in Bangkok, Part One

Merry Christmas from the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

Merry Christmas from the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

I spent last Christmas and New Year's in Thailand and Myanmar. Now that we're approaching Easter, I wanted to share some photos of our adventure and introduce you to my traveling companion, Alex. He's hilarious, kind, smart, dapper (in fact, that's what I call him), and has the most amazing accent - he was born and raised in Lucerne, Switzerland.

While he looks ridiculously handsome in every photo taken of him, I look like a sweaty mess in most photos from Southeast Asia.

Here are some highlights of the first part of our trip:

  • Flying from NYC to Tokyo, short layover and then on to Bangkok
  • Three nights at the gorgeous Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, with the best Christmas morning breakfast buffet overlooking the Chao Phraya River
  • Taking the public ferry to the Grand Palace, overrun with selfie sticks and westerners sporting elephant pants. Seeing the Emerald Buddha and stopping for a coconut.
  • Visiting Wat Pho & the famous Reclining Buddha - putting coins into buckets for good luck
  • Cheap foot massages at Wat Pho (a must-do!) - 280 bahts for 30 minutes, about $8
  • Lunch stop at Sala Rattanakosin hotel, a short walk from Wat Pho. The upper level has awesome views of Wat Ahrun across the river
  • A 75-minute traffic-clogged tuk tuk ride to afternoon tea at the Anantara hotel
  • Thai dinner at the Mandarin Oriental's Terrace Rim Naam
  • Taking the Skytrain to the Mo Chit market, a total waste of time, although it was cool to ride the Skytrain. Everyone lined up in the most civilized way.
  • Eating dim sum at Tim Ho Wan in Terminal 21 mall (Bangkok is all about the malls). The original location in Hong Kong is the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. Now it's a chain throughout Southeast Asia.
  • Drinks at rooftop bar Vertigo, then dinner at Nahm, on this list of 50 best restaurants in the world.
High above Bangkok at Vertigo

High above Bangkok at Vertigo

Layover in Tokyo

Layover in Tokyo

I loved staying on the river for historical perspective and retreating from the city's chaos. The hotel is split into two sections, with the spa and a couple restaurants across the river. Every few minutes, these traditional boats zip you across.

Roaming around the Grand Palace

Roaming around the Grand Palace

Don't miss these amazing massages at Wat Pho!

Don't miss these amazing massages at Wat Pho!

So many kittens

So many kittens

Perfect lunch stop - Sala Rattanakosin

Perfect lunch stop - Sala Rattanakosin

Afternoon tea at Anantara

Afternoon tea at Anantara

We consumed a lot of coconuts on this trip, especially Alex. If he disappeared for a second, I knew he was buying a coconut.

We consumed a lot of coconuts on this trip, especially Alex. If he disappeared for a second, I knew he was buying a coconut.

Morning view from our room at the Mandarin

Morning view from our room at the Mandarin

I loved Bangkok's airport. On our way to Myanmar!

I loved Bangkok's airport. On our way to Myanmar!

After our short time in Bangkok, we flew to Yangon! More to come...