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!

Some Really Good Filters

In the past three weeks, I’ve been to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Detroit and Seattle. Needless to say, it’s been a wild April, exhausting and energizing all at once.

Between all of the photos I share on social media, I often jokingly get asked, “What is your life?”

I usually laugh it off with, “Anthropologie outfits that I got on sale and just some really good Instagram filters.”

But, in all seriousness, it’s something I’ve been reflecting on and I may have figured it out.

My life is the narrative I have written for myself.

It is the narrative that I fully endorse. One that I am incredibly proud of.

It is written with midwestern kindness and charm, fierce loyalty to the ones I love, a belief that experiences that bring joy are worth every penny, the ability to identify and express what I want out of life, and a tendency to say “YES” to whatever may come my way.

That has served me especially well this past month.

I’ve made new friends, caught up with old friends. I’ve gotten upgrades, heavily discounted tickets, comped food and beverages. I’ve checked out some really cool restaurants and some top notch bars. And somewhere in between there (okay, everywhere in between there), I celebrated turning 24.

I’m looking forward to sharing more stories, but I’m also looking forward to sharing more tips and tricks with you all.

Things like, “how to pack for ten days in a carry on and never have to repeat an outfit,” or “how to make a flight when you’re hungover and overslept.”

Those titles are very much so a work in progress, but if there is anything you beautiful readers would like to see more of, do let me know!

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My Luck is My Ladies

“Hey, want to go to Vegas for my golden birthday?”

See, it all started as a half-joke. I mean come on, even the term “golden birthday” is kind of made up. I’m turning 24 on the 24th and thought it would be fun to celebrate with a girlfriend or two in a big way. Vegas seemed fitting, of course.

But what I didn’t expect was for the “YES!”s to just keep coming at me.

Not just one or two but seven of my best girlfriends all took a gamble on a girls weekend in Sin City and flew out for my birthday.

(Not sorry about the puns…)

Lucky for me, these ladies shared my mindset: if you’re going to do something, do it right.

We got two adjoining suites at the glamorous Venetian (which honestly I might like a little more than I did actual Venice because it’s less crowded and they have a pool) and spent the weekend basking in the glitz and the ritz.

We wore fluffy white robes and soaked in a marble tub while eating cake and drinking Champagne (we took turns of course because we couldn’t all fit.) We sat front and center for the musical BAZ (great musical, but everyone dies in the end so it’s low key sad), and sang (okay, screamed) our hearts out at 3am watching ZEDD perform. We won big playing slots and roulette (and proceeded to promptly lose most of it), and we splashed around a day-club in our teeny bikinis (and loads of sunscreen because sun safety is key.)

Yes it was fabulous, but here’s the real secret sauce to my perfect weekend:

If you had taken away the glitter and sexy dresses, the bottle service and the suites, the limo and the shows. If that were all gone, I still would have been the luckiest lady in the world.

It was my golden girls who made it perfect.

Things are things, but good people are every-thing.

While I’m still not over the fact that seven humans got on airplanes to celebrate that I have aged another year, nor is my body over the trauma of three days of champagne and cake, my heart is so full.

To my beautiful friends: Thank you. I hit the jackpot when I met you.

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Domestic Diva

While I do consider myself the Martha Stewart of our generation, I’m referring to domestic in a slightly different sense.

I have temporarily traded in my international travel for domestic instead, embracing the life of a road warrior for my cool new career.

Seattle. Los Angeles. New York. Phoenix. Atlanta. Boston. Anywhere, I’m there.

Maybe you’ve noticed (you probably haven’t) but I’ve never really written about my travels within the US. In fact, I find it hard to blog about anything at all when it’s not about some fabulous and exciting foreign country.

Alas, I have decided that domestic destinations carry their own validity and their own stories and it’s about time I start sharing those as well.

Let’s start with the fact that today I managed to pack 14 different outfits, five pairs of shoes, and three handbags into a carry on.

People, if that isn’t an accomplishment worth writing about- then I don’t know what is.

More to come from this high heeled road warrior and her pink suitcase. Stay tuned, and thanks for flying along.