UK Adventures: Beast from the East

Buckle your seatbelts everyone, I’m about to take you for a wild ride.

End of February going into March 2018, I made the ultra-fun decision to go visit one of my friends, Linus, in his home country ~ England. It would be my first time going there ever, and I hadn’t seen Linus since we’d studied abroad together in 2016, so this trip was revved up to be an ordeal. An amazing ordeal.

I did my research and the cheapest way, and really the most fun way, to get to Linus was to first fly to Paris and meet one of our mutual friends there, then together her and I would fly to London that same day, and then… you know what, I’m actually a psycho planner so below is what had been planned:

See my full excel here if you’re looking for planning inspo… LOL I AM NOT ASHAMED

As you can see, we get to do a fun trip hitting various cities. Our two days in London (really only one proper day) we went to Warner Brothers Studios and did the FULL Harry Potter shebang. It was bliss, I would easily pay the 40-50 bucks to go again, and again, and again. It was magic and everything I hoped it would be and more…

PRO TIP: You have to book your tickets for WB Studios in advance. Like as soon as possible, because depending on the time of year, they can be all booked up for several weeks out!

After our super fun Harry Potter escapade, we hopped in train up north to the main event: the visit with the lovely Linus in his humble abode located in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I’ll be real, the only Newcastle I had ever heard of was the one in Indiana, so I didn’t know what to expect when signing up to visit this town. But I’ll be quick to say Newcastle is a pretty major city that perfectly maintains the English quaintness I was craving. We had loads of fun seeing the town, great shopping, fun nights out. We went to this great bar called The Alchemist and the cocktails were so extravagant and hands on, I felt like a witch brewing potions – and lemme tell ya, the potions were working!

At this point you’re probably thinking, “This trip seems so nice! Way to be dramatic, Emily. So much for a wild ride…”

Well here we go… if you scroll back up to my lovely calendar, you’ll see that we had an unassuming day trip planned from Newcastle to Edinburgh. It made sense to do, it was a two hour journey via train, we could easily leave Newcastle early morning and leave Edinburgh late evening. Not to mention, the train tickets were stupid cheap. It was a great setup.

PRO TIP: Check the weather before you travel anywhere – near or far!

Our journey begins like most, tickets are bought, including surprise tickets for an unsuspecting Linus & his roommate as gratitude for letting us crash at theirs during our visit. We’re all buzzing with excitement to journey up to Edinburgh. I can’t wait to catch sight of the castle, more Harry Potter vibes, and of course catch some Scottish accents.

We’re nearly halfway through our train ride when we notice a light snow flurry begin to pick up intensity, and it’s not long before our train makes an unplanned stop. We’re at a standstill for nearly an hour, and it’s unknown when we will start moving. Linus’ roommate’s mother begins texting her frantically, “You guys are crazy to go to Edinburgh! Didn’t you check the weather?! You should turn around and come back…”

Upon the relay of the mother’s message, I speak quickly and firmly for us all, “No, this snow is nothing. We’re fine!”

Oh, those are the famous last words, aren’t they?

The snow certainly was nothing compared to the harsh winters experienced in Indiana, this weather would barely get us a 2-hr Delay from school! But what I had not taken into account is that the UK is not equipped for this kind of icy weather. It didn’t come often enough for it to be a problem, so when it did the country would just simply hold tight at home and wait out what they call a Beast from the East.

The ‘Beast from the East’ is a phrase used to describe cold and wintry conditions in the UK as a result of easterly winds from the near continent.

When pressure is high over Scandinavia, the UK tends to experience a polar continental air mass. 

When this happens in winter, cold air is drawn in from the Eurasian landmass, bringing the cold and wintry conditions that give rise to the ‘Beast from the East’ moniker.

Met office UK

So, basically it’s a crazy polar vortex that can be blamed on Scandinavia, ultimately. This is when the Beast from the East becomes a focal point of the story.

As we finally make it into a snowy Edinburgh, I’m awestruck. This is where some of my favorite film, TV, and literature is set – this is the backdrop of all of my daydreams – I’m in heaven. We wander around, snapping photos and trying not to slip in the quickly piling snow. Then we get to the castle…

Instantly I feel transported back in time – I can almost see the historical figures walking around. is this real life? Am I really here?

We continue, or mainly I continue, to snap photos and relish in the atmosphere before we soon declare it time to explore elsewhere – maybe grab a bite to eat before the train back, maybe finally try some Scotch because when in Rome… 😉

We don’t make it very far from the castle, when suddenly the wind picks up and snowflakes fall in thicker form. What had first felt like a gentle breeze with wisps of snow, now suddenly becomes a rioting force whiting out the landscape. We make a dash into the nearest pub to escape the beast, and quickly get cozy at the bar while we wait for a table to become available.

As we’re waiting, the chatty bartender quickly learns our story. Pouring scotch into a glass, she tells us very seriously, “Everything is closing down, I’ve never experienced anything like this. Even the castle is closed down, and it’s not been closed down in some 50 years! I’ll be surprised if the train will take you to Newcastle tonight…”

We nervously laugh in response and brush her off like idiots.

An hour or so later we’re stuffed to the brim with bangers & mash, scotch, and beer. Once the bill is paid, we begin to make our way through the now full blown blizzard towards the train station.

Well, reader, have you guessed what’s happened yet? Have you?

After a lengthy walk with many near-falls, we make it to the train station. We’re immediately met with a flustered conductor who tells us that all trains have been cancelled and that we should check back in the morning. He then points us to their office where they get us booked up in a complimentary hotel for the night and even equip us with meal vouchers for the inconvenience.

Im Fine GIF - Im Fine Friends GIFs

At this point, all we can do is exasperatedly sigh and get on with life. It’s just one night… I quickly google the hotel to find that it’s actually a 5-Star hotel anyway, so it’s totally fine. And it’s only one day of being the same clothes, luckily I always carry contact solution and spare contacts, so it’s fine. Seriously, I’m fine.

Chrissy Teigan GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

The next morning, Linus’ roommate checks with the train station and they tell her we need to check back later – nothing’s moving as of now. But they also quickly add that they are doing tickets on a first come first serve basis and in person only – so we need to be physically coming down to the station periodically to check the status...

Each morning and afternoon we dutifully check in at the station to see if there’s anything leaving Edinburgh, but always we get the same answer, “Nothin’ yet.”

Days quickly turn into weeks, weeks turn into months…

Just kidding 😉

We ended up being stranded in Edinburgh for four days in total. The trainline, Virgin, put us up in incredibly nice hotels each night and also provided us with breakfast and dinner vouchers each day. They were “perfectly splendid” and we lucked out with their hospitality.

Unfortunately though, due to the weather, everything in Edinburgh was closed down – all of the shops and museums and the castle – truly the only things open were the pubs. So we weren’t that put out, just drunk and stuck in the same clothing everyday LOL!

One of the highlights was when Linus and I stumbled upon this secret little pub off the beaten path, it was so cozy and felt so unapologetically Scottish – it was truly a highlight of the stranding. We were even encouraged to take off our shoes to dry them by the fire – it felt surreal and as if everything was a purposeful vacation in that moment.

So now we’ve hit a super fun part, and I’m curious if you’ve done the math and caught what’s about to go down next!

Not only had my return flight to Paris been missed, but by the time we made it back to Newcastle, so had my return flight back to the US 🙂

PRO TIP: Book all of your travel (flights and hotel) with a CREDIT CARD! Most credit cards have some of the best travel protection imaginable and will refund you for nearly everything – as long as it’s a valid excuse like sickness or weather, etc.

Nope GIFs | Tenor

But did ya homegurl use a credit card to book her travels? Or at the very least get traveler protection?

I was able to rebook my flight to Paris just fine since the UK was so greatly affected by the winter weather, but France was completely unaffected… so I was out a good chunk of change for my flight back to the US.

Needless to say, major lessons were learned, incredibly unique experiences were had… yet out of everything, there’s only one thing I would change. That’s right, after all that chaos I only have one thing to change.

My attitude.

Due to everything constantly changing, being completely out of control of the situation, additional vacation days being used that I had originally allotted for other things throughout the year… it was all eating at me and a lot of the time I struggled to properly enjoy what was put in front of me: an extended, nearly free, vacation with friends I don’t get to see very often. I wish that I embraced it all a bit more openly and accepted that the situation was out of my control, and just lived in the freaking moment. Clearly, there were definitely times I was able to get outside of my own head and enjoy myself, but can you just imagine what more experiences could’ve been added to the list if I just let go?

PRO TIP: Let go & live in the moment.

Tips From A Serial Wanderer

Long-time traveler and friend, Agnieszka, sat down with me to discuss everything she’s learned from a life of traveling. Currently residing and studying in Germany, she splits her time with her family in California. Agnieszka has traveled to roughly 45 countries since childhood including: Canada, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bahamas, Iceland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Monaco, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania , Kenya, China, Nepal, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, Dominican Republic


Tanzania, 2012

Where did your desire/love of travel come from?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been raised by a father with an insatiable passion and love for traveling. Since I can remember, he was constantly trying to find any opportunity for an adventure and almost always trying to bring his family along. Traveling with him were and still are the most fun and exciting experiences of my life. 

So where did your dad’s love of travel come from?
It was really his inability to travel. My parents grew up in Poland – which was then a communist country under (official/unofficial?) control of the Soviet Union. Traveling to another country was heavily restricted… people could essentially only travel to other communist/soviet eastern European countries. And when something is forbidden from you, usually that’s something you then really want. Growing up my father actually thought about becoming a sailer because that was then one of the very few opportunities to actually travel and see the world. Instead he immigrated at 23 years old to the US and as soon as he was able to afford it, his (and our) world adventures began.

Nepal, 2017

Do you prefer traveling alone or with others?
That’s a difficult question for me. There is a lot of good in both and I’ve enjoyed both tremendously. Traveling alone is – at least for me – a huge challenge. But it was a challenge that allowed me to learn a lot about myself and how to positively develop as a person. I’m self-conscious and antisocial and really quite nervous around people and so I had a lot of difficulty opening up to incredible people I was meeting during my travels alone and probably missed out on a lot of amazing experiences. But the occasions when someone was brave enough to push through my barriers and invite me along on their adventures or show me kindness and love are memories I will always always always cherish – and I would have probably also never experienced those had I been traveling with others. 

So I am grateful for the times I traveled alone and hope to travel alone again in the future… I had freedom to do and see what I pleased without worrying about what anyone else wanted but I then also had the freedom to meet and spend time with whatever wonderful person I meant along the way and experience so many other awesome things beyond just visiting the next famous site. Traveling with others is wonderful because I then have someone to share not only the incredible moments with but also the difficult times. It is not as lonely and therefore is not as mentally challenging.

Machu Picchu, 2012

Stereotypically, society says that women should not travel alone. Have you also experienced that stigma? Or do you feel that it is equally as safe as long as you’re smart about it?
Of course. As a women I’ve experienced sexism and many kinds of sexual harassment. There are countries I probably would not have traveled to had I been alone and don’t have the desire to visit in the future without a male companion. It is not as equally safe for women to travel in several parts of the world. But that has not and will not prevent me from traveling alone – and I don’t think it should prevent any other woman from doing so. Horrible things happen to people everywhere – even of course in the most “modern” and “safe” countries. In the end, it’s important to be as cautious as possible, avoid any possibly dangerous situations as much as humanly possible, and to always try to plan how to keep yourself safe in any given situation. Also I find that one should also try to respect the culture and customs of whatever place they’re visiting… if you’re visiting a country in which women generally cover their bodies in loose clothing, or cover their hair, or avoid doing a certain thing then I think it’s not only respectful to try to do the same, it also avoids more attention on you and hopefully then keeps you a little more safe.

Do you have any tips for staying in hostels?
I am not particularly easy-going about where or how I sleep, so I spend quite a lot of time and effort in choosing which hostels I will stay at – I proably spend more time on that than on actually planning what I will do outside the hostel once I’m there. I’ve only ever stayed in hostels in Europe and I would find and reserve them on “hostelworld.com.” I would base my decision on reviews, whether they provided breakfast, whether it was located close to the places I wanted to visit but also in a safe area, and of course on price. If you are like me and have a deep dislike of sleeping in dirty beds and showering in disgusting showers, these are my suggestions:

France, 2018
  • Book the hostel in advance. Give yourself time to do research and find the best one… This may however unfortunately require you to not take the cheapest bed in the cheapest hostel. 
  • Try to stay in a hostel in or at least near the areas you’d really like to visit or at least in an area that is said to be safe. I’ve stayed in hostels that fulfilled neither requirement and it made my time in that city/area much less enjoyable. 
  • Unless you can sleep through literally everything, bring earplugs and something to cover your eyes!
  • Bring a bedsheet or a sleeping bag! I am very sensitive about sleeping in unclean sheets and so bringing my own definitely allowed me to sleep much better. (I always brought a thin bedsheet with me which took up very little space in my backpack and which I used to wrap around me while I slept, serving as a mattress & pillow cover and as a blanket.
  • Bring flip flops to wear in the shower and a fast-drying towel!
  • Bring a lock! Oftentimes the hostels would provide lockers or similar to store your baggage but they would rarely come with locks and were of course always in public areas so a lock is great for additional security and sense of peace.
Dubai, 2016

What are 5 must-have essentials when traveling? (Besides the obvious)
I don’t really know if there are essentials other than the obvious. I find more people overpack and worry about bringing so much unnecessary things… unless you plan to go deep into no-man’s-land, you will be able to find and buy soap and other basic essentials. I’ve also never been one to travel and actually try to look attractive so I have no suggestions on essentials for when that is a goal of yours… But I suppose some things that I do try to always bring with me are: a comfortable day backpack/bag that closes all the way, medication for the basic pains and aches that you know works well for you, comfortable shoes, a rain jacket, and some secure way to keep my passport and money on me at all times.

Where is the favorite place/places that you’ve traveled?
I have never had nor will I ever have an answer to this question. I truly have difficulty trying to think of one place that I enjoyed more than the others. I have loved and appreciated every single place I’ve ever been to – even the places where I had unpleasant experiences and the places I’d never want to visit again. From every single adventure I learned something and experienced something good and I am grateful for them all. 

India, 2015

Where’s the most underrated or surprising place you’ve been?
Hmmm… this is also difficult. I suppose I am particularly grateful for my experiences in the economically/systematically “poorer” parts of the world. I am often thinking about my experiences in Tanzania where my father and I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. I will never forget how kind the people were to us and how many huge, happy, beautiful smiles I saw and how much laughter I heard. This memory is something I always try to protect in my heart to remind myself to be grateful, to smile, and to just be freaking kind.

How important is the planning before a trip?
Well… I guess that depends on how easy-going you are, what is important for you to achieve from this trip and what you know you want to see or do. I do always try to plan enough in advance so that I can at least book where I will be sleeping and know what I can do the next day, but I have never planned all details of an entire trip. So it’s not necessarily important… I’ve learned that it is much easier and more enjoyable if you allow yourself to “go with the flow”.

Argentina, 2014

How do you find the less touristy places?
I google and read through a lot of blogs and travel websites, I always ask hotel/hostel staff for recommendations, I ask anyone and everyone I meet along the way for their suggestions, and I always try to get a map of the area from the hotel/hostel and I go through all the sites that are usually marked on them. But… I don’t purposely try to avoid the “touristy” places… they’re often touristy for a reason and I think they are worth seeing if it is indeed something you’re interested in. 

Where’s the next place you’re traveling?
I am deeply saddened to say that I have no idea when or where I will be able to travel next. Not only because of the pandemic, but also because my studies allow me to have very little life or time outside of it and when I do have any time free, I am utilizing it to visit my parents in California. I have lots of ideas and dreams and I hope I’ll be able to make one of them a reality sometime soon. With my boyfriend perhaps Norway or South Africa. My father’s next ambitions are exploring Bhutan and Madagascar, snowboarding in Japan and in the Andes, and kitesurfing in Zanzibar.I also would like to try to find an opportunity to travel a little bit alone again.


Travel Tips for First Time Travelers:

  • Be open-minded. Be open to new experiences (foods, languages, customs, behavior, people) and try to find the good in them all.
  • Be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Traveling often includes stressful, frustrating, uncomfortable situations. Breathe through them. It will be OK and it really is all worth it in the end. Either way, it’s a story to tell for later.
  • Be respectful of other cultures. Do your research about what is illegal and what is considered disrepectful in the area you plan to explore. That is also perhaps involves adapting your behavior/appearance. 
  • Please don’t assume everyone speaks english. I find it more respectful to ask if the person speaks english before beginning to speak to them in it. Perhaps even try to at least pick up some basic words – especially the word “thank you” or “please”. And if you’re American, please do try to speak more quietly… we are really generally quite loud and it really can be quite annoying.
  • Don’t pack too much. You can always wash your clothes while traveling or buy essentials like shampoo at a store.
  • Look into local transport – some cities have apps available for subway lines, buses, etc. And it’s good to know a little bit about what is available in an area so you can always try to find the best and cheapest traveling solution. Find a map of the local area and embrace it! And most importantly – try to walk a little! Some of the coolest things I’ve discovered in a city have just been things I’ve walked past on my way to somewhere else.
  • Go with the flow and be flexible. It will make life much easier for you and you’ll discover incredible things. I promise.
  • Don’t keep important or expensive items in the back pocket of your pants or in the front pockets or the very bottom of a backpack. I’ve met so many people who have had things stolen from them and I’ve seen it in action as well. 
  • Try to be cautious and attentive about everything around you. Be aware of your surroundings so you can try to better protect yourself from possible dangerous situations. Err on the side of safety.
  • Traveling doesn’t have to be unaffordable. Try to be flexible with where and when you travel. Spend time looking at multiple websites for flights and hotels/hostels and try out every single date/location combination you can think of and you’ll be surprised what kind of possibilities you’ll find.

As my father always says, “traveling is the best teacher.” You’ll not only learn about other people and ways of life, but also about yourself and how you can be a better you. You’ll find so much gratitude and love for yourself, for others, and for this planet. Don’t be afraid – be open to the challenges that come with traveling and adventuring and embrace what you learn from them. Follow your heart, find what you want from your life, and just go for it. All in. 

Wine 101: Barebone Basics

One thing about me that shocks most people is the amount of part-time jobs I’ve had in my life. I’ve worked various babysitting gigs, retail at place such as Loft, The Children’s Place, Dollar General, Macy’s… I’ve worked at Waffle House… I’ve worked as a package handler for FedEx… but my most favorite part-time job I’ve ever worked is at a cute little wine boutique in the East Village – Taste Wine Company.

I know, I know – you’re thinking, “Wow… shocker… Emily’s fave part-time gig being at a place that gives her a booze discount? Not rocket science.

And if you’re not thinking that, then you’re still stuck on the Waffle House bit… and I’ll tell you now that it’s okay, I’m okay.

But here’s the thing – while the wine & spirits discount was a definite plus, what was actually my favorite part of the job was learning so much about the wine and spirits. Not only the simple things, like what I actually enjoy and being able to point customers to something I’m sure they’ll enjoy, but learning about how everything is made and what makes each beverage unique.

Throughout my time at Taste, I learned so much, and that knowledge paired with the luxury events I began attending through work… my personal taste developed quite radically. Where most of my friends were still into Oliver Soft Red, I began looking for a California cab, and when they’re craving a moscato, I’m looking for a sauv blanc. I also at times find myself turning up my nose at those who are into the sweeter wines, but then I immediately scold myself with the reminder: “Wine is subjective, Emily. Get a grip, it ain’t that deep girl.

But it was a recent dinner where I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc and my brother said, “Oh, did you find that wine when you were working at the wine shop?” I realized he assumed sauvignon blanc was not just a type of wine, he assumed it was a brand name – granted my brother is one year shy of 21, but still, it got the wheels in my head turning. I have such a basic level knowledge of wine, but I do understand it… so why not share my very basic knowledge with others who are looking to to broaden their own wine knowledge?

So let’s breakdown four common dry wine varietals:

Red

Pinot Noir

Pronunciation = pee-noh | n’wahr

This is typically a lighter to medium bodied red with not a lot of tannin (bitterness), and while pinot noirs definitely can have earthy notes to them, they more commonly get a bit fruitier with prominent berry, or jammy, vibes to them. A major note here is fruity does not mean sweet! When talking jammy, think of this in terms of the tartness and lingering aftertaste in fruits like cranberries or black cherries. In terms of what “earthy” means, well with some wines you can almost taste something similar to dirt, but mixed with hints of spices – it sounds funky, I know, but with wine it just works.

Pairs well with: In general, red wine goes great with a heftier meal, but it’s important to remember that pinot noir is a lighter red wine, so this isn’t meant for a heavy steak dinner. Pinot noirs go great with things like pasta dishes, roasted chicken, & medium cheeses like Gruyere.

Popular regions: Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia, (Burgundy) France, Germany, & Argentina | I’m a sucker for pinot noir from Burgundy. The most random pinot noir I’ve had is one from Macedonia – this was earthy as all get out and tasted like straight dirt – but what’s fun about wine is that while I’m not into it, some people totally are and that’s OK 😉

Cabernet Sauvignon

Pronunciation = cab-er-nay | soh-vee-ah-(n)

When someone just says, “I’ll take the cab, please” – this is what they’re referring to, cabernet sauvigon. Some also call it the “cab sauv” [pronounced: cab sav, say it all through your nose like Fran from The Nanny] Now you know the lingo, it’s time to understand what this red is going to taste like. Cabs are heavier bodied, bold, high on the tanin (bitterness), and dry af. So if you are a sweet wine drinker who wants to dip your toes into dryer wine, do not start here, friend. It will deter you big time. This is a wine varietal to ease into, for instance if you do a wine tasting night, there’s a higher chance you’ll dig cabernet sauvignon if you taste in the order of: lighter softer red you’re accustomed to, a jammy pinot noir, maybe a medium bodied red like a petite syrah, then go for the heavier cab sauv.

Pairs well with: Big, bold wine goes with a big, bold dinner. Cabernet sauvignon goes great with hearty red meat dishes, massive portabello mushrooms, & it pairs well with most any cheese, but especially hard cheese like Gouda & cheddar.

Popular regions: California, (Bordeaux) France, Australia, & Chile | As mentioned earlier, I’m always game for a California cab.

White

Sauvignon Blanc

Pronunciation = soh-vee-ah-(n) | blah-nk

Sauvignon blanc is typically a safe white wine choice; these are lighter bodied, citrus-y, and really easy on the taste buds. But reminder, this is still a dry wine – while it seems fruity, it’s certainly not sweet. Typical tasting notes with sauv blancs are grapefruit, gooseberry, white peach, or melon – and if these sound like fruits you’d like on a hot summer day, that’s the exact mood of a sauvignon blanc. Think crisp, refreshing, and summer vibes when envisioning a sauvignon blanc situation.

Pairs well with: Mantra: lighter wines = lighter foods. So mix that mantra with the summery sauv blanc, and you’re probably not surprised that it goes well with seafood, green veggies, & a smooth goat cheese = all light, bright and fun 🙂

Popular regions: California, (Loire Valley) France, New Zealand, & South Africa | French sauv blancs are typically smooth & subtle, while New Zealand sauv blancs have a vibrant grapefruit personality.

Chardonnay

Pronunciation = char-duh-nay

Chardonnays were the hardest wines for me to understand, one: if I even liked them, and two: what people even meant when they would call them buttery. Like how can a wine be buttery?! But then, one day I had my ah-ha! moment. I tasted a California chardonnay and a French chardonnay (a white Burgundy) back to back which enabled me to taste the difference immediately. To back it up a bit, chardonnays are generally a medium bodied white wine, they have a summery pallet of a sauvignon blanc but think of a thicker, warmer version. For me, after tasting these two chardonnays from different regions within moments of each other, I was finally able to taste the “butter” that everyone mentions. Due to being aged in oak barrels, that California chardonnay was considered “oaked” and the wine’s thickness tasted more like a buttery vanilla, while that French chardonnay, which was not aged in oak barrels and considered “unoaked”, came across more like a velvety, mineral-y citrus.

Pairs well with: The buttery, oaked chardonnays go great with more intense dishes like smoked seafood & creamy cheeses, while the mineral-y unoaked chardonnays pairs great with light white meat dishes & medium cheeses like Gruyere.

Popular regions: California, (Burgundy) France, Australia, & Italy | If you’re into the citrus-y, mineral wines – look for unoaked chardonnays!

I only mentioned four varietals, but there’s so much more than that!

One of my absolute favorite parts about wine, is that it’s subjective. There’s no wrong answer, no wrong preference, no wrong pairing – it’s all about your personal taste! So while I made pairing suggestions up above, they’re just that – suggestions. If you want to have a red wine with your summery salad – go for it! If you try these wines and you don’t taste any of the things I said you would – it’s not that big of deal. The fun part about doing a wine tasting with others is comparing what you taste versus what they taste, and thinking, “Wow, interesting, I think I taste that now!” or thinking, “Nope, don’t taste that at all… still don’t taste it, nope.

The worst thing you can do is let yourself be intimidated by wine; wine is fun, complex, and honestly it’s like world culture in a glass. More importantly, don’t let anyone tell you your taste is wrong – it’s just different than theirs.

“In racing, there is no question who is best – the first one to cross the finish line wins first prize. But with wine, even if you make the best wine in the world, someone isn’t going to like it, because it isn’t their style. Judging wine is very subjective.”

Mario Andretti

Making a Drag Queen: Euphoria MarxxX

Who is Euphoria MarxxX? A millennial drag queen that’s ready to shake up the political world? Most definitely. Someone ready to question the norms of society and how we view politics? Absolutely.

I met Kyle/Euphoria nearly four years ago while we were still bright-eyed, bushy-tailed seniors in college, studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. We connected quickly thanks to our shared midwestern roots and a dark sense of humor that could make anyone squirm. We reconnected over zoom this week to trace the path from Aix to drag. This is her story.


Part One: Studying Abroad

B: What made you want to study abroad?
E: I really always wanted to. I wanted to study abroad in high school, but I thought that if I went then that I’d miss out on something. (Hello FOMO!) Look how great that turned out for me! When I went to college, I thought that maybe it was the best time. I pursued a Bachelor of Arts which required 12 hours of a foreign language. I decided my sophomore year that I would complete the entire requirement in one semester abroad. I’d taken french in high school so I knew I wanted to go somewhere french speaking. It worked out perfectly.

B: What was that experience like for you?
E: It was amazing – I want to go back so badly. There were obviously ups and downs, but overall it was such an amazing and life changing experience. It was culturally enlightening, we built friendships and had this whole experience together that no one else but our group had. We picked up our lives, moved across the world for six months, became friends for six months and then moved back to the States. It’s such a weird concept.

B: What about a favorite or least favorite memory?
E: I loved going out with our group in general. I loved going out and experiencing that social environment of living in a different country where everyone is speaking another language. It was definitely a culture shock. I loved our spring break trip – that will always be at the top of the list [read more about that here and here]. Except Bruxelles – nothing good happened there. As for least favorite, I once got on a bus to Bordeaux and our friend didn’t make it in time; I was horrified. I didn’t have any internet connection or a working cell phone, thinking ‘what am I going to do?’. I was honestly afraid that I’d go to this city and never make it back home.

B: If you could do it again, what would you change?
E: I would say that I’d want to go out and experience life more, but I feel like we did so much of that. We were always getting Crêpe à Go Go or pizza from Pizza Capri in town. I wish I would have stayed longer. I only stayed a week or two after classes were done so that I could be home to walk at graduation. If you’re thinking of about studying abroad, just do it. Don’t think about it. Figure out how to make it work and do it. It was such a liberating experience, even with the shitty parts I loved it. I look back on it so fondly now.

B: What was it like returning to Missouri after studying abroad?
E: I was going through a sort of transformation as a human being while studying abroad, I think. Right before leaving to study abroad, I was dealing with the death of my grandpa, the break up of my engagement and my ex’s mother passing so I was dealing with a lot emotionally. When I came back from studying abroad, I hadn’t really dealt with any of it yet, so it was a weird time. Within a year of coming home, I came out as gay. Around this time I started having a rift with my family because of their political views and homophobia. I decided to not deal with that sort of view or attitude in my life anymore. After I graduated college, I lived at home for maybe a month and then found a new place to live and moved out. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made, but coming back home was definitely hard.

B: How did your life/perspective change after studying abroad?
E: Studying abroad definitely made me a more liberated human. I felt like more of an adult, like I could adapt or figure out anything I put my mind to. I felt like we were in such precarious situations sometimes and we would just figure it out – even with the language barrier. We were kicked off the bus on the side of a mountain and still made it home. I think that when I came home I decided that I wasn’t going to settle for unhappiness anymore. Had I not studied abroad, I truly believe it would have taken me longer to come to terms with who I am. 


Part Two: Center Stage

B: When did you first become interested in drag?
E: I didn’t become truly interested in drag until February of this year. When the pandemic hit, my boyfriend Josh had just moved in with me and he’d always tried to get me to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. Watching the show really changed my perception of what drag is. I saw how revolutionary it was and how it questions the gender binary. For me, I had never been able to express femininity and this was an outlet for me to explore that. It started off as kind of a joke – just doing it for fun. But I really didn’t want to half ass something, so I started spending more time practicing it. I started to think, ‘Ok, what can I do with this? I’m in quarantine, but how can I still reach people?’. That’s when I started exploring the idea of political drag. Drag queens have always been the torchbearers for political revolution, especially for the LGBTQ community. They were the ones who stood up to the police at Stonewall and they’re the reason we celebrate pride and it’s so important today to not forget that. I started thinking of how I could still contribute to this political movement, even while social distancing. I decided that I’m going to interview political members while in drag. I want my community, the community I’m surrounded with, to appreciate this as an art form of it. It’s creative.

B: How does it feel to be doing drag in such an intense political climate?
E: It’s given me some anxiety for sure. Even just by announcing to the world that this is what I’m doing, I’m obviously alienating myself from people who may not agree with this. I have to keep reminding myself, ‘what am I doing this for?’. I want to question the norm and I want people to do that as well. It’s very liberating but also a little bit scary.

B: Does the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race give you any extra security – knowing that drag is in such a public space now?
E: I do think it helps. RuPaul has said numerous times on the show that the world would be a better place if more people did drag, and I believe that. She also says don’t take yourself too seriously. In this interview the runway is executive realness. I’m wearing six inch stripper heels, a vibrator necklace and there’s an eggplant emoji in the background. It is so ridiculous. That’s what I have to remind myself; not to take myself too seriously which is something I do often.

B: Who are your drag influences?
E: One of my all time favorites – despite her diva moment – is Alaska Thunderf**k 5000. Then it’d be Naomi Smalls, Kim-Chi, Katya Zamolodchikova and Violet Chachki. The first season I watched was season 4, which was in 2012. One of the challenges on the show was to do a presidential campaign, running as the first drag queen of the United States. So many of the contestants said, “I just don’t associate drag with politics”. To me, everything about drag is political. Everything. 

B: What is the future of Euphoria – what is the end goal?
E: Right now, I’m trying to not set expectations. I think that’s something that gave me a lot of anxiety when I first started. When I went public with this, it was ‘oh now there’s an expectation’. My ultimate goal would be to inspire or to empower anyone that I can. I’ve had one person reach out about me going public with my drag saying that it empowered them to start experimenting with drag which is amazing. At the end of the day, that’s what I want. I think our social media presence is more impactful than people realize – I didn’t realize it until this experience. 

Follow along on Euphoria MarxxX’s journey on Instagram

Watch her first political interview with 2020 Candidate for Congress Maite Salazar

How to Heal a Broken Millennial Heart

My fiancé left me a week before our wedding day. On a Saturday night last fall, with no apparent reason after nearly 8 years together. (Not to mention a house with a mortgage, two pets and a few thousand dollars in wedding expenses.) I was told, “I need space,” and he left. It’s safe to say my life felt like it was in complete shambles, decimated in the course of three words. Never did I think I’d find myself at a Starbucks at 5 am on a Sunday sending out cancellation emails and texts. Personally, I was wrecked; but professionally, I was in the midst of the busiest and most important weeks of my life.

This is what I learned on this wild healing journey.

  • You can’t heal where you were hurt. I didn’t feel comfortable in my house anymore, it just reminded me of the years of memories and time spent there. I went on my honeymoon to Paris with my mom (begrudgingly); thankfully she was able to get off work at last minute to come with me to the City of Lights or Love or for me – the City of What Could Have Been. The trip itself was fairly miserable, with many days spent lying in my hotel bed or walking endlessly through the city so I could try to feign sleep. However the physical distance allowed me to detach. (Note: This is a phrase that I would tattoo on my forehead just because of how perfectly true it is).
  • Support may come in surprising ways. I’m a fairly private person naturally, so when my private life was catapulted into everyone’s eyes, I was mortified. I would go to work and be met with sad, wondering eyes which only made it that much harder. Not to mention the endless embarrassment. Some people in my life, who had once been just on the periphery came forward to help support me; including a long-extinguished old flame, a casual coworker and even someone I’d known for only two weeks. These people without reason or explanation, stepped up and took care of me at my worst.
  • Sometimes there’s no real reason and that’s okay. As a long-time sufferer of high-functioning anxiety and depression, it’s hard for me to accept something that is gray. I need to have a black and white world. Right and wrong; good and bad; yes and no. Not ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘I can’t explain it’. But sometimes, things are truly murky. Sometimes, there’s no good answer or reason. It was a tough pill to swallow. But every day I had to remind myself of what was true; actions.
  • Take your time. There is no perfect path to healing, or a one-size fits all plan. I tend to keep myself occupied when I’m anxious – but that prolongs the healing because you’re not actually confronting what happened. Sometimes you need to feel it – even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time in a safe environment. I spent a whole day of my honeymoon, cooped up in our hotel room, watching shitty French murder documentaries and purging myself of everything I’d been avoiding. I made myself confront what happened in its entirety, piece by piece before neatly letting it go. My one-time old flame was the one who really brought me to my senses. He told me, “he doesn’t care right now. I know it hurts, but you need to hear that.” Which was 100% true. As much as it hurt, I was wasting a perfectly nice vacation and being sad about someone who clearly did not care in that same moment. That mindset really helped me to take that first step.
  • Get it out of your system. Holding on to something from the past that is beyond your control is just draining. There will be no good ending. Having spent a solid two years in therapy during college, I consider myself to be fairly familiar with coping mechanisms. I chose to write a letter (technically an email while wine drunk in the bathtub, but hey, it still counts). I wrote to physically manifest my thoughts and feelings into something that could be set free, therefore releasing its toxic hold on me. I wrote to let go of all of the questions, thoughts and feelings that I’d been drowning in. The local radio show I listen to in the Midwest set a standard – “for however many years you’ve been together, take one day to mourn.” By that logic, I had 8 days to mourn. It was closer to 15 but giving yourself a deadline can help. I was determined to not spend an ounce more energy or time on this.
  • Only talk when you’re ready. After such a public catastrophe, everyone is bound to have questions. Even those with the best intentions will still want to ask questions that will feel like nails being driven into your always shattering heart. It took me months to fully open up to friends and family about what happened. On the other hand, you may have to ask close friends and families to stop mentioning it – stop treating you differently. It drove me nuts when people would look at me with sadness or remorse or embarrassment – no matter how well intended it was. I wasn’t some broken puppy in a cast or a bird with a broken wing so don’t treat me as such.
  • Healing isn’t linear. You will have good days and bad days. Maybe even good weeks with a few bad days sprinkled in. You will have nights of crying so hard, you’re sure the walls are about to cave in. But there will be joy. Remember that just because there’s a few slips on the journey, doesn’t mean you’re done moving forward.
  • Get out of bed. Physically. Metaphorically. While yes, those blankets and pillows may feel like your only comfort right now, but you’re not helping yourself by staying there. It may be painful and annoying, but you must get up and move a little. Don’t get me wrong, you need time to feel and process (see previous point) but know that there is a point where enough is enough. Even if it’s just to get a drink of water, get out of bed. I continued going to work (albeit at a heavily modified schedule) just to not be in my house. Was it easy? No. Was it comfortable? No. Did I want to accost every person who looked at me with sadness? Absolutely. But it helped give me space and to see that everything is still moving.
  • Heartbreak is temporary. While in the moment and for weeks or even months and years later, it hurts; little by little it will fade. You will rebuild – yourself, your life and your heart. You will become a stronger version of yourself. During this journey you will learn endlessly about yourself, your expectations and those around you. It may not ever be the same as before, but you’ll be better for it.

While everyone will surely have their own experiences, these were the few ways that I was able to move through my situation a little easier. Rely on those close to you and reach out when you’re feeling down; you are not a burden.

If I Could Redo My Study Abroad

I studied abroad in 2016, it was the spring semester of my junior year in college, and I was posted up in Caen, Normandy, France.

I could blanket statement my whole experience by simply saying: I had the time of my life.

I made life long friendships, had unforgettable nights, traipsed around Europe chasing one adventure and sleepless night after the next… It was truly magical and amazing, I’m a huge advocate for study abroad programs due to my experience.

But now, 4 years later, I’ve reflected and there were definitely some things I wish I did a bit differently to further enhance my experience.

Maintained a relationship with my host family.

When I first arrived in France, I did a “Welcome Weekend” program where I stayed with an older French couple and they helped get me settled in the city. They also took me to a rather large dinner party their family hosted and honestly it was the most culturally overwhelming thing I’ve ever experienced. My French was mediocre at best and I spent the whole event near tears, guzzling wine the whole time. I would directly link this overwhelming experience as to why the minute the host family moved me into my dorm I practically blew them off. Even though they were nothing but overwhelmingly kind to me, it was exactly that – overwhelming. I was in culture shock, overwhelmed, and completely shut down. I proceeded to stick with mostly English speakers most of my time abroad when outside of the classroom.

In reality, I should have powered through this culture shock a bit better; perhaps reached out to my french professor in the US and talk through what I was going through with her, and embraced my host family (no matter how temporary they were hosting me) a bit more openly. I know that if I had, I would have great relations with them to this day, but now that is something that has blown like dust in the wind.

Saved more money prior to study abroad.

The best way to explain how I am with money is to say that I can make $5 last a lot longer than $100. So essentially all the money I brought with me was money I had earned only the summer before, which I worked three part time minimum wage jobs (I even gave a fourth job a go for about two weeks) and managed to put away around $1200. Which would be a fine amount if you cooked more than you ate out, didn’t travel as much, and rarely went shopping. But that’s literally the opposite of me. I went out like crazy, I traveled like crazy, and don’t even get me started on the shopping. Even piled with scholarships and the saved money that had me coming to Europe with close to $2,000… my family ended up needing to send me more money halfway through my time abroad because I ran bone dry.

So really if I had a do over, I would either be more frugal with my money while abroad or started saving maybe two or three summers prior to study abroad…

Traveled to more countries.

Ok, so I guess with this point I could really say being more frugal with my money is not in the cards for me – saving more and planning is though. When I was living in France, I traveled to Rome, Athens, Cologne, Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Believe it or not, I wish I saw more, went to more countries, and planned my trips more wisely. A part of me almost wishes instead of the Germany trip that I vacayed with other friends who tackled way more countries in a similar amount of time.

But at the same time, I also believe everything happens for a reason.

I don’t regret visiting those cities in Germany, and even though the people I traveled with caused me headaches like no other… that shorter trip also resulted in me going back to Caen with an extra week to hang out before classes started up again, and it led to cementing friendships with others who were in a similar boat as me – low on cash and spending a chunk of the holiday in Caen.

SO

Even though I have these do overs, they aren’t really do overs.

Everything happens for a reason; even though it seems like ties are severed with my host family I know I could reach out to them even today and spark up a conversation – they really were that kind – and while money makes the world go round, what good is it if you just have it all locked away? Use your money to experience, to aid in creating memories, and to expand your horizons.

Am I saying to blow all of your money?

You know what, if your bills are paid, freaking blow it.

And if you need help on how to blow your money to create memories, hit ya girl up. I got you.