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.

Pageant Girl

My (very domestic) travels have taken me a few places recently- namely Atlanta and Seattle, but my greatest adventure came from the place I least expected it.

Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

For those of you not familiar with Bloomington-Normal, it’s basically the middle of nowhere, Illinois, and is the most normal and uninteresting place I have been to (forgive the word play, it was low hanging fruit.)

But this particular adventure wasn’t about the location, it was about the experience.

Earlier this month, I entered my first pageant and competed for the title of Miss Illinois in Bloomington-Normal.

I have a close friend who participates in pageants regular and always talks about them as a personally enriching experience, an avenue to meet equally impressive women, and a fun way to build self confidence (which I suppose may just be ego because at this point in my life my confidence is at Beyoncé levels.)

I never considered myself a pageant girl, but with my gal pal’s encouragement, competing in a pageant started to sound like something I absolutely must do.

So, I signed up.

I did my research (did you know that butt glue is a thing? Because I didn’t), bought an appropriate swimsuit (apparently I don’t own anything with sufficient booty coverage), poached a cherry red gown off of a stranger on the internet (because I wasn’t about to pay the full $750 for it jeez), and drove down to Central Illinois with a suitcase full of dresses and makeup not knowing what to expect next.

See, my life dreams never involved walking a stage in five inch heels wearing nothing but a bikini in front of people who’s only job is to judge you.

In fact, that sounded a lot more like a personal nightmare, and I woke up that morning thinking, “what the eff did I get myself into.”

Why was I voluntarily choosing to spend four days locked in the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, when I could have stayed in my comfortable summer weekend routine: sipping aggressive amounts of rosé while getting sunburnt and ogling beautiful men at the Soho House pool.

I reminded myself that the answer is pretty simple.

I don’t want to wake up one day and think, “Wouldn’t it have been cool if I had done that?

So I did it.

And I didn’t place, oh not even close my friends.

But as cheesy as it sounds, I did win that weekend.

I genuinely think I grew as a person. I restored all of my faith in beautiful women as people who build each other up and fix each other’s crowns (shout out to all of the ladies I met that weekend for teasing my hair, zipping my dresses, picking spinach out of my teeth before going on stage, and for all the tips and tricks!) I was reminded that I have an amazing network of friends (and Instagram acquaintances, ya’ll came through too) always supporting me and cheering me on, and that once in a while it’s healthy to go do something alone just cause you’ve never done it before.

Oh, and I learned that if you can strut your stuff in a teeny canary yellow bikini in 5 inch heels down a catwalk- there isn’t anything you can’t do.

 

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Ms. Kulka, Party of One

“How’ve you been, Pauline?”

“Busy. The good kind of busy. Busy is good!”

That’s usually how most of my catch up conversations go, either in elevators or fast walking away in some loud pair of heels.

Since my last post I’ve been to Atlanta, New York, Boston and Phoenix for work, I’ve hosted my best friend’s bachelorette party in Scottsdale, and now I’m writing to you from poolside in Miami on a girls trip. Somewhere in there, I’ve sprinkled in a few days in sweet home Chicago.

Looking at the last few weeks there have been a lot of lovely little moments. And while these moments have been lovely, they’ve all blended together. Which is why I haven’t written. 

But, there was one moment that really stands out in the last couple of weeks that I feel compelled to write about.

It was the moment that I was completely alone, and had nothing to do and nowhere to be.

And it was pretty awesome.

I genuinely love spending time with myself, and for those of you who know me or watch my instagram stories (I suppose on some level it’s all the same), you know that I’m always with someone- my teammates, my family, my gal pals.

See, as much as I like being alone, I find my joy in spending time with the people I love and I do my best to give my free time to those people.

I am the most extroverted introvert you will ever meet.

One night in Phoenix, I had a free evening between meetings, so I decided to take myself out.

I’m not one to sit alone in a hotel room (life is short, and beauty and youth are fleeting), so I made a reservation at one of Scottsdale’s lovely resort restaurants, put on my favorite delicate gold hoops and a killer pair of heels, and went out on the town.

There’s something incredibly empowering and sexy about pulling up to a restaurant, throwing a valet boy the keys to your Dodge Charger and walking up to the hostess stand, “Ms. Kulka- table for 1.”

During my solo travels in Italy, Spain, and Nepal, I learned to enjoy dining alone. The key is to put your phone away and quiet your mind.

Revel in the role of being mysterious, and if people want to assume you’re a celebrity in rehab or that you got stood up- let them. People will assume that you’re lonely, and that’s okay. There is a difference between being lonely and being alone.

Being alone is a beautiful thing.

Plus, waiters take real good care of you when they think you got stood up. 

Anyhoo, that’s what I did for an evening. I savored slow bites of tuna tartare, sipped a G&T and watch the sunset over Camelback mountain. All in my own party of one.

It gave me the opportunity to still my mind, be grateful and be present. And that, was the loveliest thing.

If you, dear reader, end up doing this and loving it- shoot me a note, I would love to hear about it!