Los Angeles and a love note

What if you could piece together your perfect day.

Do you ever think about that?

What would it look like? What would happen to you? How would it make you feel?

What if you woke up next to your best friend, laughing at your miraculously white pillow cases, proud that somehow both of you had managed to take off your makeup after a long night of champagne and warm chocolate chip cookies (gooey, with sea salt.)

And what if you spent your morning giving your old pup obnoxious kisses, and laughing so hard with your brother that you fell to the floor and almost peed yourself.

What if you hugged your mom for a few more seconds than usual, and breathed her in because she smelled like home.

What if your uber driver carried your suitcase from the front door so that you wouldn’t have to drag it in the snow, and gave you a Twix bar for the ride. (A real one, not just a fun sized one.)

And then you surprised yourself and found that the suitcase you had packed hungover, actually had everything you needed.

And what if there were no lines at the airport and your flight left early.

And you landed in Los Angeles, and it rained and you didn’t care because you got to see an old friend.

And then you hugged her tight and you cried because you had missed her, and because a sad thing had happened to her and you were there to try to make it all better somehow.

And what if, and what if, and what if.

And what if those “what ifs” weren’t “what ifs”, and you didn’t have to think about what the perfect day might look like, because the perfect day had already happened.

I spent five days last week in Los Angeles (half pleasure, half work) and it took me a few days to sort out my mixed feeling.

I don’t love LA. I still don’t.

But last week, I loved the way it made me feel.

I now realize it was never LA. It was the people, the moments of joy.

I got to spend time with one of my best friends, cozied up in the most charming boutique hotel, mending a broken heart with shoe shopping, chic cocktail bars, and soul cycle.

Her strength, her positivity, her relentlessness and new found motivation to seek her own joy- that gave me joy.

I saw another old friend from college, a woman who I am incredibly proud to know, who now lives in LA. She loves LA. She is LA; all the good parts, none of the bad: she is the California sunshine, the Pacific Ocean calm. Her energy and her joy being there, that was contagious.

It reminded me of the time I spent in Los Angeles last year, strolling Venice beach and cruising the California coast with another close and wonderful friend. And yes, the coast was beautiful and Venice beach was fun, but it was the person who I shared it all with that brought me my happiness.

Dear readers…

What started out as a commentary on the concept of a perfect day, has now ended up a love note of sorts to the incredible women in my life.

And while it bothers me at my very core that there is no clean tie from beginning to end in this piece, I’ve decided not to mold this musing into some neat literary formula when clearly my heart had other things to say.

It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and I’m using that as my excuse for why I’m writing with my heart today, and not with my head.

To my friends, to my family:

Thank you, I love you.

Go with the flow

We travel for a lot of reasons.

We travel for work. We travel to relax. We travel for adventure.

To learn. To grow. To escape.

And sometimes, we travel just so that we can sit and have a beer in Mexico with people who are important to us.

Once a year, I visit La Ventana, Mexico to hang out with my friend Peter, whom I met four years ago while trekking the Camino De Santiago in Spain, and his lovely wife Susan.

It’s always such a joy to be down here, in a place that feels like a home away from home, with people who feel like family.

La Ventana is famous for being a kitesurfing Mecca, and as a non kiting Chicagoan, I often get asked why I’m here. (Politely of course, because everyone down here is so kind and cool as fuck.)

Well #1 is of course to visit my loved ones. (Unofficially, #2 is to ogle kite surfers since they’re all smokin’ hot and usually half naked.)

But one of the things I love most about being here is that it’s an exercise in being human.

Okay, okay, hear me out (and no I haven’t been drinking. Well, maybe. But just a Pacifico, and that’s basically bubbly water.)

Life is just “go with the flow” here. And I am not usually a “go with the flow” kind of gal. I must direct the flow.

I am the captain of the flow, in command at all times; a high functioning humanoid, who plans and optimizes every minute of every day.

But here, I kind of just…chill out. Like I imagine normal people do.

(Or people with good xanax prescriptions or expensive therapists. But I fired mine for asking too many personal questions, so I have to make do with a passport and credit card instead. Which, I might argue, is all you really need in life.)

When I’m here, I drink cappuccinos (slowly!) and watch the sunrise. I do yoga. I lay out on the beach. I watch the kites. I nap. I visit with people. I eat tacos and drink beer (and I don’t even like beer.)

I don’t feel the need to be doing something purposeful at all times. I can just…be.

In fact, right now I’m laying on the outdoor couch at Peter and Susan’s gorgeous home and I’m so relaxed that I don’t even feel the need to end this post in some clever or insightful way.

I’m going to nap now.

Little Luxuries

I’ve spent the last two weeks answering the same question, “How was your trip!?”

And while I usually consider myself an articulate person, my reply to this question has been, without fail, some version of the word vomit below:

“Hi! Thank you! It was super fun and really cool and different, and everything is shiny and luxurious and there are Bentleys everywhere and when you go to the mall a man in a top hat opens the door and serves you coffee and a date. I loved it, I loved everything about it. Alas, I could have been an Emirate princess and now I’m just another girl answering emails. *heavy sigh*”

I mean really, is it too much to ask for me to find a beautiful Middle Eastern Prince to marry?

Then inevitably leave him two years later, taking our pretty little blonde Arabic speaking children, my fine China, and half of everything he owns?

I’m just kidding.

He can keep the fine China.

I digress, back to my trip. Dubai is basically Vegas on steroids- high-tech, luxurious, futuristic and blinged out.

Often, people write it off as a “fake city,” and I had a few folks tell me that they didn’t like it there. I understand that it’s polarizing in that it’s all very superficial- Dubai doesn’t have much culture or history, and malls are one of the main attractions the city has to offer. However, the beauty of traveling the world is finding something to love in every place you go.

My advice to anyone hoping to visit, is to live a little- bask in the luxury and INDULGE.

I spent my evenings in Dubai being wined and dined with fine champagne and lobster poutine, exploring swanky bars and clubs, sipping 24K gold cappuccinos (I don’t recommend them though, the gold flakes get caught in the back of your throat and it’s really unpleasant actually) and giving myself full permission to have all the lovely things.

That’s what credit cards are for, amirite?

In fact, I stayed an extra day after my father left and treated myself to a day at the Versace Palace Hotel in Dubai, one of the most opulent places I have ever stayed. My room was complete with a white marbled bathroom, baby pink silk sheets and accent chairs, and a balcony overlooking the marina.

It was a Barbie dream house. Or shall I say, a Pauline dream house.

For a girl who has no problem crashing in a shack in Nepal or a hostel in Cairns, I really do love my luxury hotels.

All in all, I know that the UAE hasn’t seen the last of me- in fact, I can see myself moving there for a short stint in the Middle East. I think the glamour of Dubai suits me well.

But for now...khallas.

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Be a Dolphin

On the heels of my previous post detailing my dislike of camels, I spent today mesmerized by the dolphins that swam alongside our boat in the Gulf of Oman.

Yesterday afternoon we crossed the UAE border into Oman, and spent today in Khasab sailing on a traditional Dhow boat through the Musandam Fjords. And by sailing, I mean my father fished shirtless having displaced the captain at the back of the boat, while I took selfies and napped in the sun.

The dreamy orange tinted rock formations complemented the cloudless blue skies, and the bright blue sea, which in places shined in neon green where there was an abundance of algae.

Yikes that was a really annoying sentence- so back to dolphins we go.

What I like about dolphins (and bear with me here I’m only a glass of wine in and already philosophizing) is their attitude.

In any country where I have ran into dolphins, I’ve more often than not seen them come right up to boats, playing and swimming along.

Even the wild ones.

I think that we could all be a little more like dolphins.

(More intelligent, for one, since people can be idiots and dolphins are way smart. But that’s not what I’m getting at here.)

I think people need to be more like dolphins in that we need to be more willing to play, and to be less afraid of the big boats, approaching them with curiosity and not fear.

Dear friends, that is what we- in literature– call a metaphor.

Feel free to adapt it to whatever your big boat is. Maybe your big boat is traveling outside of the country, maybe it’s social anxiety.

Or maybe, you’re actually really afraid of big boats in which case you’re welcome to take this literally.

Imagine a world where we approach the things that are objectively frightening, with playfulness and curiosity instead.

How else do you think I end up at a breakfast with Warren Buffett’s former private pilot, or sipping fine champagne and eating lobster poutine with an oil tycoon?

(Y’all, it’s been a long few days, ask me about it over a glass of wine sometime.)

Point is: the cool shit happens when you’re a dolphin.

Or you get hit by the big boat and your little dolphin self gets violently torn to shreds. But how boring would life be if we let that hold us back.

I was having dinner with my father the other night and after I told him my plans to move to Dubai, he gave a great piece of advice.

“If you feel. Go.”

It was so simple, incisive and so profound.

Granted, was that because he was three glasses of wine in and English is not his first language? Perhaps. But, that doesn’t matter.

If deep down in your soul you feel you need to go do something, go do it.

Be the dolphin, and swim towards the big scary boat.

Who knows, it might just be fun.

How many camels?

Wanting to get away from the modernity and hubbub of Dubai and check out some of the more historical sites of the UAE, my father and I headed to Al Ain for a day trip.

Al Ain is about an hour and a half hour drive away and is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We visited the former home of the late UAE founder, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (which was lovely because palaces make me feel at home) and the Al Ain Oasis which houses a 3,000 year old irrigation system and beautiful date palms.

This day trip was all fine and dandy until we made our way to a camel market (because camel markets are a wonderful immersion in traditional Arab culture and who am I to argue with that.)

Now, something that very few people know about me is that I am not super fond of animals.

I just don’t feel any warm fuzzy inside feelings around them and prefer to keep a distance. Exception being my dog, Champagne, who is the most precious gremlin in the world and shrimp mantis cause they are really cool.

Anyhoo I have a particular disdain for camels. They are large, scary scraggly toothed beasts – and my theory is that God got tired after devising their magnificent water holding abilities and was just like “it’s fine just add a sloth face to the rest of it and call it a day.”

Not to mention, they have been known to spit on people and that is just rude.

Nevertheless, after the amount of jokes I have heard about how many camels I might sell for in the Middle East, I figured I might as well be a little cheeky and take a photo with one.

So that is how I found myself in arguably one of the most stressful animal situations of my life.

This means a lot coming from a woman who did a night dive with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef cage-less.

All of my efforts to stand close enough to the camels to take a photos ended with me shrieking anytime one of them got to dangerously close to my hair.

I not only gave the local men their daily dose of free entertainment, but I also gave myself a stress headache and have decided that I will from now on be opting out of camel related activities.

Bottom line is, if you’re ever in the market for a camel- please don’t ask me to come with you.

Grandeur in the Grand Mosque

The United Arab Emirates mark my 45th country that I have visited.

I’ll let that stand alone as a statement, but I promise there is a purpose to this note.

Through my travels, I have learned that as you experience more and more of the world you start to recognize patterns that are agnostic to culture, country or continent.

I had one of these realizations today while wandering the majestic Sheikh Zayed Mosque of Abu Dhabi.

Of all the places I have seen all over the world, the most exquisite sights have all been places of worship.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Sagrada Familia in Spain, and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok are just a few that come to mind.

While I’ll definitely say a few Hail Mary’s when shit hits the fan, I won’t feign piety for the sake of this post.

Nevertheless religion in every culture is a topic that fascinates me.

I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence that the most beautiful places in the world are those in which we find God (Allah in this case.)

How is it that buildings can hold so much power, bringing comfort and peace to those visit?

Are they beautiful because we built them so opulently for God?

After all, the mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the largest in the world and is adorned with massive chandeliers with millions of Swarovski crystals and columns clad with marble and pearl.

Or are they even more beautiful because God is there?

Perhaps the two are complimentary.

Either way the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen, and while I don’t often plan to revisit a location, I somehow know I will be back here.

Dubaian Dreams

Ever since I flew through Abu Dhabi on my way to Nepal last November, I have been absolutely fascinated by the Middle East.

Dubai was an easy choice- my father was already planning to be here for a week and I’m fortunate enough to have friends here whom I met at my best friend Claire’s wedding in August.

Thanks to them, my first two days in Dubai have been everything that my Emirate dreams were made of.

(Sans the crippling hangover I have right now and running on three hours of sleep. I really could have done without that.)

My trip started in the most on brand way. I got off my 13 hour flight, put on a dress and went dancing with my fabulous friend Stavros.

The next morning, my friend Charlie scooped me up bright and early to go dune bashing in his Jeep Wrangler.

Yes, dune bashing.

This is a real thing.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and was immediately (and naturally) concerned when I heard the phrase, “if the car flips, just hold on tight.”

But hey, I love a good thrill, and I’ll try anything once.

Twice if I’m into it.

I spent all morning roller coaster screaming and laughing as Charlie whipped over sand dunes in the desert, impressively maneuvering over every curve, while another car lost a tire and another one flipped over.

My ultimate 24 hour welcome continued with poolside rosé at one of Dubai’s newest day clubs, dinner with views of the majestic Burj Khalifa, and an aggressive night out clubbing.

Basically, the most PK itinerary there ever was.

Stay tuned for more, because while I have enough photos on my Instagram stories to make it seem like I’ve been here for weeks- I’m only just getting started.

Yalla.