Thursday, March 31, 2016

An Ode to New York City

I wish I knew who to credit this to.
As Facebook—in direct competition with our friends at Timehop, might I add—reminded me this morning, today marks two years since I decided to pack up my entire life and move from Chicago to New York City. In some ways it feels like a distant memory, and in others it feels like yesterday. When I saw the "memory," I thought to myself "hm - It was two years ago, wasn't it?" I was immediately hit with a nice warm batch of nostalgia. You know, the kind that makes you smile and tear up all at once? Yep. That was me this morning, while simultaneously trying not to get caught by the same stupid speed camera yet again. 

It would be wrong not to take a second to show Chicago the l-o-v-e it deserves. I love my life here, including but not limited to, immediate access to my boyfriend, an apartment the size of a mansion (to NY standards) at a fraction of the cost, and oh god the food... so yeah, I'm good. But that's not to say I don't miss living in what I can still agree is the most amazing city in this here country of ours. It has so much to offer, and everyone should experience it at least once. And I definitely recommend living there for a spell if you can. It pushes you to be better and stronger than you ever could have imagined. I'm sure you've heard how hard it is, but with a little effort it's more than possible to succeed. Struggles, and all that come with them, build character. I feel like I grew up, learned independence, and decided who I wanted to be in New York. I laughed really hard, cried harder, gained weight, lost weight, spent waaaaaay too much money, but I worked hard so I earned it. I made (and reconnected with) great friends, and I genuinely just lived life for myself without hesitation. 

To celebrate that special time in my life, I wanted to round up and share with you my top 10 memories from my year and a half as a New Yorker—the best time of my life thus far. I hope these inspire you to visit if you haven't and give you ideas of what to do if you've hit a New York-living plateau. 

1: Fire Island
Where does one even begin with this one. I could write an entire blog post about my experience(s) on Fire Island. But I won't, because it'll ruin the magic. I went twice my first summer in NYC. First was a weekend for work (in this case 'werk' feels more appropriate), which was very grassroots and scrappy. We slept hostel style, three to a room and worked day to night. Ooooh but the nights were fun. A little too fun, hence my second visit. 


A little over a month later I returned to Fire Island with a few co-workers-turned-friends for the official turn up (we're professionals after all). It was a simple day trip, but I felt like I was there for weeks—so many states of being accomplished on that trip. I'll spare you (but mostly myself) the details, but if anyone ever invites you to Fire Island ask no questions, just GO! Photographic proof above.

2: Rooftop Sips
Rooftop drinking is pretty much a New York City-summer pastime. Come to think of it, I've actually never seen a person on a roof in NY without a drink in hand. You have to be ready to spend a pretty penny on your drink (wine in my case) if you want the full rooftop experience, read: high rise rooftop with breathtaking views of the city. It's worth it at least once, or a dozen times in my case.




My greatest rooftop memories are, however, in the casual Brooklyn jaunts where I'd end up on a friend's rooftop laughing and drinking until we couldn't anymore. It was that special New York magic where you woke up and said "OK, self. We have Monster Cycle and grocery shopping on the agenda today." And before you know it you're picnicking in Prospect Park and end your night sharing stories and sipping wine on a roof in Bushwick. Word to the wise: Find a friend with a rooftop, or at least something that resembles one.

Photo: Whitney Thielman

3: ?uestlove
Where else is it appropriate to go out at 11pm to dance the night away to Questlove DJing when you know good and well that you have work in the morning? That's all I'm really going to say. It was awesome. I never thought about the fact that I had work in the morning. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Photo: Whitney Thielman

4: Governor's Island
This was one of those roomie dates that Montana and I went on a lot as it got close to the end of summer, as we both knew we'd be vacating the city come September. It was just a refreshingly innocent good time. We sat in lawn chairs on GRASS (a rarity, folks), soaked up some major sun rays, people watched, rode a ferry (the only way to get there), and reflected on our time in NYC. Governor's Island is really pretty and you get amazing views of my girl Lady Liberty (Exhibit A below). I definitely recommend visiting, and no Gov Ball does not count.



5: Walking... Everywhere
I can't lie to you. My workout schedule was abysmal in New York. With the exception of a 5K and mooching off of my roommates gym membership half a dozen times (oh! and that one month I thought it was a good idea to drop like $180 on a Monster Cycle package of six classes because New York—and it's SO worth it!), I just didn't do it. I was, though, in pretty decent shape. Why, you ask? I walked almost everywhere. Just walking to work guaranteed me two miles of pavement time five times a week. While I don't believe the myth that you can eat whatever you want in New York because you're just going to walk it off (your body gets used to the walking, helloooo), walking is a reliable way to maintain—and my legs looked great! 

I drive to work now, and it's kind of a bummer. But I'm working out more, so A+!


6: City Island
THERE IS LIFE OUTSIDE OF MANHATTAN. No, but really. I never thought I'd say that one of the best and most beautiful dining experiences I had in New York, where there's a new place to eat on every corner, was during an impromptu trip to City Island with my friend Chassi. City Island is an unassuming destination on the water... in the Bronx. I know, right? Not Manhattan, or Brooklyn, or Queens, but the Boogie Down Bronx. It was like I stepped into a different life for a day and was transported. But that's how it is in New York, you know. So many things can happen to you in one day. It feels like you lived a dozen lives by the time you meet your bed again. If you're in NY, make the excursion to City Island. If you do it for nothing else, do it for the affordable seafood and the quiet. If you're a New Yorker, you know quiet is like stumbling upon a gold mine.





7: Picnics in the Park
Picnics are my favorite. I love eating outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine make the food taste better. Nothing tops packing up your bag with snacks and heading to Central (or Prospect if Brooklyn is more your style) Park, pulling out your blanket and just lounging. The people watching is unmatched. You may even get lucky, as I did one time, and stumble upon a concert happening in an adjacent portion of the park that requires paid entry. But since you're so close, you get the show for free. Oh, New York. 

This isn't just a shameless selfie. This is me basking in that Central Park glow.

8: Cafe Minerva
One of my very best friends I made in New York lives in the West Village, and introduced me to Cafe Minerva one night when we had so much work to do, but had to get out of the office. To our surprise, they don't let you work at the dining tables at night. See, during the day hours they are very much a cafe, but at night it's more of romantically-lit dining destination. And now that I've been, I can say confidently that it feels very European. So yeah, we had to sit at the bar with our laptops. I just couldn't get over the vibe and the near-perfect pasta and the $20 bottles of wine. I fell in love, and my dates with Julia at Cafe Minerva are some of my best memories I have of my time there. It's just one of those quintessential New York places, where if you stay long enough Sarah Jessica Parker will definitely walk by. Go if you can.

9: Hosting Out-of-Towners
I never had more fun in New York than when I could play host. It was when I could truly test myself on my NY knowledge and see if I had earned my New Yorker title. By the time I hosted my last pair of guests in July 2015, I had it down. I knew the best brunch spots, the best drinking spots, and how to see Times Square without actually having to walk through it (because ew).  That weekend in July when my friends Carina and Michelle visited was definitely the best of all time, but each time I hosted I had a little tinge of  "why am I leaving this city again?" That's how I knew I was doing it right.



10: The Unexpected
This is the most vague, but the most important of my memories.  My life today is pretty simple and straight forward. I usually know at the beginning of each day how it's likely to end—unless I head to brunch with Michelle and Carina, then all bets are off. But jokes aside, Monday-Friday I wake up between 6-6:30am and I'm out the door by 7:10am. I get to work at 8am and I leave at 5pm on the dot. If I didn't work out on my lunch break, I'm usually heading to take advantage of my Class Pass membership. Then it's home to cook dinner (or eat leftovers) and catch up on TV, and now blogging!

In New York, I could never have written the paragraph above. Seriously. I worked at Birchbox. No day was the same. Some days I was up at 8am, others 9am, and on bad days sometimes even 10am. But that also means some days I worked 'til 6pm, some 8pm, and yes, even 9pm. But those 9pm nights often turned into the best nights. I'd wind up at a cute local bar/restaurant post-work getting to know my co-workers a little better, then I'd walk home (which isn't scary at all!). Everyone is walking home. Honestly it was those 9pm walks home when I would really appreciate New York and all it had to offer me. I knew I was sharing the streets with my fellow workaholics who stayed at the office a little too late and ended up having one glass of wine too many. We were all heading home to do it all over again. In those moments I wouldn't change a thing, because I took comfort in the fact that by tomorrow, everything could change. 




New York will always be a part of my story. I may not have lived there for five or ten years, and to some I haven't even earned the right to call myself a New Yorker. But I was. For that year and a half, I lived it and I loved it. I cried in public. I cried walking down 34th street and almost got hit by a cab. That's how you know it's real. I stepped outside my comfort zone every day. I regained confidence that I had allowed to be taken from me. I lived. 

So here's to you, New York. I'll love you forever.

xo,
@vnesschelle



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why You Should Pay Me to Travel: Part 2

Oh, hey there. So, it took me a little longer to get back to you than I had originally planned. Work trips, ya know? If you didn't read my last post, this is going to be a follow up talking in a little bit more depth about my Spanish adventures. And since I made you wait longer than I had originally planned, let's just jump right to it.

Spain. I am not even sure where to begin, because every moment of it was just perfect. I even enjoyed the rush of my delayed flight connecting me to my international flight from Philly to Madrid. Nothing like almost missing your first flight abroad, right? So yeah, I figure my flight is a good place to start and I just have one question: Was no one going to tell me about the free wine? Really - I didn't even know that was a thing until the night before my flight my friend Lauren—who traveled to Europe a few years earlier and was currently in Australia—bestowed upon me this gem of wisdom that would soon change my expectations for traveling... forever. Spain could have been a total bust, and I would have come back talking about the free wine. I don't know why it touched me so, but it truly made my flight.

So after two full glasses of wine and a pair of zzzquil later, voilá - I'm in Madrid. Admittedly, this part was a little intimidating. It was my first time being in a country where I didn't speak the native tongue, and I was all alone. To his credit, David gave me specific instructions but still, I was stressed. After asking a girl where to go—because she looked cool and European so she had to know—I made my way back through security and over to my terminal for my almost 4-hour layover. Oh, and did I mention it was 8am (aka 2am in my mind). BUT THAT WAS OK! It was at that very moment, when I was just about to get really grumpy because of how exhausted I was (and was going to be all day), that it hit me... I was in Spain. And I did it all by myself. Not only did I travel there alone, but I planned and funded my whole trip solo dolo. It was my first big girl gift to myself that I could comfortably afford, and I'm pretty proud of that. Hard work does pay off, you guys!

OK - Realizing I could seriously write a novel about this trip, so I am going to hit the fast forward button here just a bit. Surprise! I made it to Rota safely. David, Kurt and Shannon were waiting for me right as I walked through the airport doors, which was a nice end to my travels. And the fun immediately began. 

First of all, I need to preface this all by saying that I was warned about how inexpensive everything is in Spain—but I was not prepared (and neither was my liver, to be honest). I ate and drank for 11 days like the queen that I felt like the entire time, spending mere pennies. I highly considered never returning to the US, but I don't know how well that would have gone over with my family.  We dined al fresco for most meals, which was so magical as most seating is placed steps from the hustle and bustle of people going to and from their destinations at the most non-urgent pace possible. And I don't mean non-urgent in a lazy way, but in a really delightful I'm-never-too-busy-to-stop-and-say-hi way. My first lunch in Rota was magical, I was running on fumes and couldn't believe that I was actually there. This is the first photo I took in Rota, and though it's just a single palm tree it's really special to me, I feel like I see so much more:


While I'm writing this post I'm already having the irrational fear that I am going to forget this trip one day, because the details are already kind of escaping me - I'm so glad I took as many pictures as I did.

So, after my first day I was actually able to shake my jet lag pretty quickly. And even until I was able to shake it, I could have drank cafe con leche for the rest of my life and been happy. I am still going through Spanish coffee withdrawal. Seriously! I'm not sure about other European countries, but the coffee I had in Spain was better than anything I have even remotely tasted in the states (sorry boutcha, Starbucks). Has anyone else had that experience? If so, please let me know and I'll add it to the list of things I plan to bring up with my mother this Mother's Day. I'm going to need her to explain, in detail, why I wasn't born in Europe. It's really starting to piss me off. Anyway, so I'm in Spain running on wine, cafe con leche and the occasional (very occasional) bottle of water, counting down the days 'til I can ring in the new year in a country I had no idea I'd be visiting. I claimed 2015 as my year, and I couldn't believe I actually managed to end the #YearofVanessa in Spain of all places. It was like I'd hit the self-help jackpot. 

New Year's Eve was such a special night. We ended up, by chance (which is kind of how most things happen in Rota, I quickly discovered), making reservations at a restaurant that happened to be on our walk home from afternoon drinks. David knew the people who ran the restaurant, and after a quick hello and catch-up sesh—as you do in Spain—they made room for us at their sold out NYE dinner. $40 for all you can eat and drink for what I can only imagine was no time limit. Just let that sink in. NYE parties in the US run anywhere from $100-$150 for the same treatment, and you don't get a plate full of fresh-caught seafood... as your appetizer! So after stumbling across plans for the night, we hurried home and pretended we were all going to take naps (this never happened for me), then we were off to the grocery store to buy our post-dinner materials: vodka, champagne, and grapes. Grapes may sound weird if you aren't familiar with their New Year's tradition: In Spain it's tradition that as the clock strikes midnight, you have to successfully eat 12 grapes for each bell strike. It's definitely easier said than done, but guarantees a year of success and prosperity, which I'm 100% into. 

The weather was mild NYE night, and the streets were vibrant with excitement for the night ahead. We arrived to the restaurant around 9-ish and were greeted with the most down-to-earth accommodations I have ever experienced on a night out. It was refreshing. NYE requires so much work at home, this was a nice change of pace.


So, after a night filled with champagne, more champagne, grapes, champagne, and dancing on the square, I finally made it to my pillow at approximately 5am. And I lie to you not, there were children that out partied me. I'm talking literal 10 year olds. I'm happy to report that the New Year fell at the beginning of my trip, and my first day of 2016 was another magical Spanish day where you go out for coffee and end up sitting and pretending you understand Spanish in a bar until 8pm. This happened so many times, that my rusty Spanish comprehension actually returned to me by the end of my trip.


The rest of my trip was such a magical whirlwind filled with lots of wine, great conversation, day trips to Sevilla, Arcos, Cadiz and Jerez, each place more beautiful than the next—if that's even possible. I have never laughed so hard, ate SO much and cared so little about it, and been so happy away from home as I was in Spain.  It was a dream realized for me. My last day actually still feels like it didn't happen. We were invited over by neighborhood friends of David and Kurt for a home-cooked meal, bottomless red wine, delicious tea and cookies, and shots of something that tasted borderline poisonous, but wine - so I didn't care. It was in this moment that I had just enough red wine to sit back and revel in the fact that I was sitting in a room with people who spoke less than five english words to me my whole visit, and there was never a barrier. I had so much fun with them, and could have stayed hours longer. I even started to remember Spanish words and was so impressed with myself for keeping up with the conversation. I made many failed attempts at recording sound bits to capture the magic of that moment (no one knows this!), that's how special it was to me. The Year of Vanessa was a good year, and thanks to España, 2016 didn't start too shabby.

Here are a few of my favorite photos, in no particular except for the first is of my last day in Spain. 













I'll be back Spain. Don't miss me too much!

xo,
@vnesschelle

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why You Should Pay Me to Travel: Part 1


Wow. So yeah. I did it again. You know, that thing I said I'd never do? Like, not write on my blog for literal months? I'm a mess. Forgive me. 

OK - So now that we've gotten the blog shaming out of the way, let me catch you guys up! Let's just do a flash round of updates, then I'll slow it down to cover my favorite parts... er part: 
  • I'm settled back here in Chicago and loving it. 
  • I finished my chapter with Birchbox. I know... so bittersweet. 
  • I now head up global social media strategy for Life Fitness. No, not the gym. 
  • I went to Spain for two weeks at the end of December/beginning of January, and it changed my life. I really don't think I'll ever be the same. If my incessant Instagram posting didn't prove that, this post will. 
  • I am re-committed to living a more balanced lifestyle—read: working out more and drinking (a little) less wine. It's important to note that I am having a glass of wine now. *rolls eyes at self* 
  • I really missed blogging, so I am back. 
Now that you're up to speed I really want to immediately jump back to Spain, which explains the title for this blog post. I feel like in order for you to fully understand the magic of what my European adventure was, you need a little bit of back story. So, here goes.

I have always been in love with the Spanish language. I studied all four years of high school, and by the time I graduated I was at the honors level. I still, to this day, regret not minoring in it in college, but no use crying over spilled milk. I am really fascinated by any foreign culture, but I just felt so connected to Spanish culture for some unknown reason. Fast forward to 2010, when I meet my friend/teacher/director/colleague David Gregory, a native Spaniard who I met while performing in a musical produced by his theatre company, Teatro101. I loved working with David so much, that when he offered an elective class that married my love for theatre with my love for all things Spain in the spring semester of my junior year of college (woo! say that 3x fast), I literally leapt at the opportunity. And you guessed it, it changed my life. I devoured every script, book, background article - you name it. It solidified that I HAD to get to Spain. It was no longer an option for me—but when?

So years and years pass. David and I remained good friends. I performed in two more shows of his, both of which he directed, one of which he produced. 'Twas a blast. Then I moved to Chicago with my boyfriend, who I started dating while doing one of David's shows. So the moral of this story is that David is connected to most of the amazing things in my life (just discovering this, btw). Then, I alone, move to New York. Then David to Spain. And me back to Chicago. But during this time of many transitions, David in true, generous David fashion told me I was welcome any time to Rota, which I would soon name my "special place." And I'm thinking to myself, "YEAH RIGHT! When am I ever going to have the time and money to go to Spain?!"

This is the night David told me he was moving to Spain and invited me to come visit. Note: I didn't take him seriously. At all. (Pictured from left to right: Anthony (my manz), me (I really hope you knew that), and David) 
Fast forward to December 2015. I am living back in Chicago, but it's my last trip to New York City before my time with Birchbox would come to a close. I had just accepted my job with Life Fitness and I am sitting in a new restaurant with my amazing, impulsive-yet-inspiring friend Julia, and I am telling her how I have a couple weeks off between Birchbox and the new gig. I—almost proudly—state that I am just going to take the week to sit on my couch and do nothing. Then right after that I confide in Julia that I feel that I am such a cultured person, but I am kind of embarrassed about how little I've traveled. And I am not saying this from an ungrateful place, I understand that just having been out of my city is a blessing. But I have always dreamt of traveling the world, and getting to Europe was always in the plan. I just hadn't done it. And really - why not? I had just ended a job where I had unlimited PTO, but my workaholic ways never allowed me to really take advantage. The farthest I had been out of the country at this point was to Jamaica, which is nothing to scoff at, but it wasn't Europe... it wasn't Spain.

OK this is where it gets real, promise. So we're still in the restaurant and Julia, in true Julia fashion, where she says everything with an underlying tone of "why not," like she actually believes anything is possible (I envy this), says "Why don't you take that week and travel? Don't you have a friend who lives in Spain or something? Didn't you always want to go there?" YES, JULIA! YES I DID.

And the rest is pretty much history. Originally I wasn't going to ask David to stay with him because a.) it was legit the first week of December, and as I mentioned earlier, I was on a flight by the end of the month. And b.) my mom always taught me to never invite myself places. I was truly planning to be impromptu and just go. I even asked my boyfriend's sister if she'd be down for the trip. But after reaching out to David to see if he'd be around, and him letting me know that I could totally stay with him down in Rota, I knew I'd be a true idiot not to take the local up on what turned out to be the trip that changed my outlook on life. Not kidding. It turned this penny-pinching frugalista (<-- did TJ Maxx trademark that? Whoops!) into someone who would throw you my entire bank account for a chance to travel the world. 


Running off negative zero hours of sleep, but high on adrenaline because I am going (or went) to SPAIN! 
So yeah, first week of December Julia casually suggests that I embark on the trip of a lifetime. Second week of December I book my flight. Last week of December I am dancing around the town square in Rota, Spain with an open drink in my hand and the policía right next to me because they. do. not. care.

I am putting this video here for authenticity's sake, because after months of not being here for you I just really needed to regain your trust. I have shown this to NO ONE.

It changed my entire life. And my next post will tell you all about it. Promise. Like, pinky swear. I will write it before the end of the week. I AM TELLING THE TRUTH. Love you! Mean it.


- @vnesschelle