KNOW BEFORE YOU GO! Havana Edition!

IMG_0504.jpeg

Man! It’s been a while! Hello there, great to see you again! 

I’ve been on a few adventures since we last spoke, but Cuba has lulled me out of my writers block. 

This country is amazing! 

We’ve only been here a week and I’ve only gone a few hours from Havana on this trip, but there are some things I think you might need to know before you head here! This compilation is entirely things I wish I would have known before I came here. This is from a “travel Spanish” speaking, well traveled, budget conscious, American traveler. Now, some of you might be more of a choose your own adventure while on the adventure type of people so I’m trying not to let my overbearing type-A mentality suffocate your fun out the trip, but I hope these tips will help all of you have a slightly more awesome time in Cuba than you’re already sure to! 

WHILE AT HOME

  •  Screenshot everything you think you might want to do with maps! To be fair, my cousin and I did very minimal research before we came and when I travel, I’m used to having a list of the things people told me to check out and looking them up when I get here. I know this seems stupid, but you not only don’t really have the luxury of abundant wifi, you also probably don’t want to spend the internet card time and money looking up places that you could probably have found with a screenshot of a basic google search screen! For us, it wasn’t the social media we missed, it was the google! It seems so common sense but I wish I had been a little more prepared for that.  
  • Try to arrange a driver from the airport and pay in advance so you don’t have to get CUCs out at the airport. We found the exchange rate to be the same everywhere we went (as of 9/20/16, 87% when you include the 10% fee for US$) so there was no real reason to get money in the airport other than to to pay the cab driver. And that line is about an hour long…there’s nothing like getting off a long flight, waiting forever for your luggage, only to wait in another line. Just in case you’re looking for someone, here’s our guy! Tell him Cessalee sent you! IMG_5938.JPG
  • Bring some inflight entertainment and back up chargers. Again, this may be travel 101 for some of you, but the planes we flew from the US to Mexico to Havana had no tvs and no chargers for phones. Also, we found it nice to have a few games to pass the time on buses and at the end of the day. 
  • If you’re flying through Mexico, its very easy to get your visa there for $20, but make sure you have at least an hour of a layover. We were towards the front of the plane and were able to get off and through customs quickly! Our bags were (surprisingly) already there so we grabbed them, went up to re-check them, got our visa, got back through security, to the gate and in line as the plane was boarding. Thankfully we were totally ok and had a few minutes to spare, but I wouldn’t chance it with less than an hour. We were one long customs line away from missing our connection.IMG_5922.JPG
  • Again, it may go without saying, but bring more money than you think.We set a budget of $500 each for 7 days not including lodging and exceeded it by about $150, but had more than enough to cover our expenses. 
  • Airbnb is a great way to find a casa particualar in Cuba! There are also great options in the other cities in Cuba. Just make sure that you’re extremely clear about the space that is yours vs. the shared spaces. We had a small issue where a listing said that we were renting an entire 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom home, but what they really meant was that we had an entire room with one bed in a 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom casa. Definitely not the same thing! So just make sure that you’re very clear about what you’re expecting. 
  • If you have any extra room in your suitcase, bring a few snacks. The bodegas are harder to find here than you’d think. And if you really have extra space, consider bringing small travel sized toiletries or toys for your host. We gave our host’s daughter two bottles of nail polish and it brought such a smile to her face! It’s the little things! 

WHEN YOU GET HERE

  • If you do have to change money at the airport, just know that if you change more than $1200, you are exempt from the 10% fee. So if you’re traveling with friends, pool your moola to save some moola! 
  • There are two kinds of money, the CUC, or convertible “tourist” money, and the CUP, or the “locals” money. We had absolutely no issues, but make sure that the money you’re getting says convertible on it and had pictures of monuments, not people. IMG_5824.jpeg
  • One thing I wish we had done on day one, was to head to the Infotur spot on Obispo. There a woman named Leda gave us all the information we needed and it didn’t cost a single cent! She’s got the most up to date schedules for the buses to the beach, Varadero, Vinales, Pinar del Rio and anywhere you might want to go! Head over to see her and take a few pictures of the schedules. That will help you know what time you need to get up in the morning to take the 5-10 CUC tourist buses instead of taking a 50-70 CUC tour! 
  • Wifi cards are available at most large hotels for between 2 and 5 CUCs. Some charge more for not being a guest, some won’t even sell them to you if you’re not a guest (I’m looking at you Inglaterra…grrrr). People on the street will sell them for 3, I”m not sure if they’re legit, but it sure beats 5! You can also buy them from the Etecsa office on Obispo (just past the Floridita Hotel) for 2 CUC, just make sure to bring at least a picture of our passport. And maybe a game, the line will be long! 
  • As for attire, for me, loose and comfortable was the way to go. The heat is on in Havana! So depending on your sweat level, you’ll want to make sure your clothes are lightweight! But these Cuban chicas are flaunting it, so if you’re a mini skirt and bandeau top kind of person, go for it!! Feel free to wear as little as you’d like, you won’t feel out of place. 
  • Someone is going to try to tell you that there is a “cooperativo” selling half price cigars for one day only and then they’ll take you into their house and show you cigars that they will sell for as low as 10 for $20. I personally didn’t know enough about cigars to even test their authenticity, but here are the things I do know. Many of these people sell “cigars” stuffed with banana leaves instead of tobacco so if you’re not sure what cigars are supposed to look, feel and smell like – I’d probably avoid it. However if you think you know what you’re looking for, the workers at the factories (at least the Partagas one we visited) get 5 free cigars a day to take home. So after a week, they’ve got a pretty nice batch of cigars to sell on the black market. So proceed with caution, but just know that it’s not one day a month! We’ve been here 7 days and it’s been happening every day so far! IMG_6220.JPG
  • Negotiate everything! And use your casa host/hotel as a reference. They’ll tell you what cabs should cost so you can start on a fair playing field. Most people start with about double what the actual price should be. Same goes for the tours that the cab drivers offer, the horses etc. 
  • But on the other hand, most people are working on some kind of kick back/commission situation. The cab drivers get a kick back from bringing you to the bar, the guys out front get a commission for bringing you to the club etc. So don’t be too weirded out when they walk you to the next place. It’s just so they can get their payment! 
  • It seemed that most of the “Havana tours” were the same. The hop on/hop off bus was the same basic route as the classic car tour and the walking tours. I’d suggest figuring out where you want to go and then starting with whichever mode of transportation appeals to you most and then getting a private cab/car to hit the places you miss! 
  • If you’re headed to Varadero, get 2 days for one night price like we did! I’d say, take the 8:00am bus (10 CUC) and then hang out in Varadero town near the bus station, check out the stores a bit and then get a taxi to your resort (10 CUC), and even if the room isn’t ready, they’ll let you enjoy the amenities. The next day, they’ll let you stay and relax and the last tourist bus leaves at 7:30, so grab another 10 CUC cab ride to the town (unless your resort is already in the city) and you just got two resort days for the price of one! You can also opt for the shuttle service which will take you directly from hotel to hotel! it’s a little more expensive but the convenience is totally worth it! 

There is so much more to say and share about Cuba! We had a wonderful time going all around Havana and visiting the beautiful beaches of Santa Maria and Varadero! Overall I would say that the people here are amazing! The sights and sounds you’ll hear are some of the most exciting and authentic in the world. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, they are excited that we’re coming and just want us to love and respect their culture as much as they do! Have a great time, enjoy Cuba and when you come back, please leave a comment about what you wish you knew! IMG_4329.jpeg

Advertisements

Fly one, apply one (lesson that is)

Hey there friends, it’s great to catch up with you! I’m here in Jakarta on my way back to the States for my favorite day ever, Thanksgiving. And while I’m in the mist of the first chunk of my upcoming 27 hours of layovers/stopovers, I figured what better time to talk about all the things that went right on this leg of the trip..and the things I’ll re-think for next time.

So the itinerary of this major chunk of the #Cescapades went a little something like this:

  • 10/25 Bus from Indy to Chicago
  • Fly Chicago to Amsterdam (13 hour stopover)
  • Fly Amsterdam to Nairobi
  • 2 days in Nairobi
  • Fly Nairobi to Zanzibar
  • 2 days in Stonetown
  • 2 days in Matemwe Beach
  • 1 day between Nungwi and Stonetown
  • Fly to Nairobi and immediate safari pick up
  • Safari in Maasai Mara (3 days)
  • Safari in Lake Nakuru (1 day)
  • 1 night in Nairobi
  • Fly to Amsterdam
  • Fly to NYC (13 hour stopover)
  • Fly to Chicago (36 hour stopover)
  • Fly to LA
  • 3 days in LA
  • Fly to Tokyo (13 hour overnight)
  • Fly to Jakarta (15 hour overnight)
  • Fly to Bali
  • 6 days in Bali between Kuta and Ubud
  • Fly to Jakarta (10 hour layover-not by choice)
  • Fly to Tokyo (16 hour stopover)
  • Fly to LAX (4 hour layover)
  • 11/25 Fly to my bed in Indianapolis

Yeah. That’s a lot for one month.

And so let’s talk about the things I did right. Well, first of all the price was definitely right. The round trip flight to Africa was COMPLETELY free thanks to my Chase Sapphire Rewards Card. I used my points to book what would have been a $600 great fare for only $480 worth of points! Major score! And my flight to Bali came in right around $500. There was a flight deal for a RT flight to Jakarta in and out of LA for just over $400. The domestic flight from Jakarta to Bali was about $60. I booked a good deal on Virgin from Chicago to LAX and I had enough points thanks to my Delta card to book a flight from LAX to IND for free. The flight from Nairobi to Zanzibar was about $250 so I paid $1240 if you include the potential cash back from Chase, but really only $750 out of pocket. More on this stuff later. But overall, it was a really good deal!

Although I would have taken twice as long everywhere I went, I’m glad that I gave myself enough time to get adjusted to the new cities without having to be overwhelmed. Europe was so fun to do and see, but I was literally moving to a new city every two days and truthfully, I was exhausted by the end of it. I’m so thankful I had a little breathing room in this trip! And even thought it wasn’t my home, being able to be in the States was nice! I did laundry, I recorded a 5 Minute Call, I got to see tons of friends, it was great to reset!

TIP #1: When a great deal shows up to a place you’re not particularly interested in going, check and see where you can get from there. Cheap flight to Europe? Check out the routes to other cities you want to visit! Find a good rate to China/Japan? It’s easy and cheap to get to Thailand from there. And the same goes for departures. Is there a cheaper flight from a city near you? Could a $20 Megabus ticket save you $300-500? Thinking outside the box can keep your money inside your wallet 🙂

TIP #2: It seems obvious, but pay attention to your flight departure and arrival times. An overnight flight not only saves you from wasting a full day of vacation, arriving at the crack of dawn can also save you a lot of the traffic hassle that comes in the middle of the day. And the redeye means you don’t have to spend money on your hotel room that night. Sometimes those factors, plus any savings on the flight really add up.

Now there are certainly a few things I would have changed up if I could. Starting with the lay/stopover. A layover is anything shorter than 4 hours domestically or 24 hours internationally. Airlines usually allow layovers for free and will charge around $100 for stopovers. On the way here, there was nothing I could do about the stop in Tokyo, it was part of the flight. But I do wish I had purchased my second flight to Bali for the same day. And perhaps if I had done more research on my connecting airport, Jakarta, I would have known that. Jakarta is a big city, but along with the big city action comes the big city traffic. The airport is between 90-120 minutes to the city and landing at 6, going through customs and trying to get to my hotel, checked in, and in a cab to the downtown area was just too much work! I would have rather saved the money I spent on my hotel in Jakarta and spent it on a hotel in Bali a day earlier.

However, I did a good amount of research about my hotel choices in both Tokyo and Jakarta and I was pleasantly pleased with both of them. Both had airport shuttles, free breakfast and wifi, and were extremely comfortable for one overnight.

TIP #3: Play the layover game if it works for you. I’m excited to get to see Tokyo for free thanks to this itinerary! If you have time that you can sacrifice from your intended destination, you can actually fit in a free stop on the way there and maybe even a different one on the way back. I recently found a flight from LA to Phuket, Thailand with a 20 hour “layover” in Australia for under $1000! Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

Tip #4: However, be realistic about the journey to and from your hub. Certain airports, especially some “budget airline” hubs in Europe can be REALLY far from the city so just make sure that you’re giving yourself plenty of time to be back to the airport with plenty of time!

I’m quite the planner. Before even starting on this trip, I had a fully color coded (in ROYGBIV) itinerary with each continent chunk, hotel addresses, confirmation numbers, notes and more in a file on my computer! It was and is my bible for these 24 weeks. But I wish I left myself a little more flexibility in Bali. It turns out the hotel I booked there was ok, but I wanted to discover more. And since I had paid for it in full in advance, I ended up paying for another place in Ubud although I had a fully paid place in Kuta. A similar thing happened in Zanzibar. The days leading up to my stay were filled with political unrest on the island. The ruling party had been outvoted by newcomers and the possibility of a re-vote brought the possibility of riots breaking out basically in front of my hotel. Frazzled and worried, I decided to book a separate hotel for a few days just in case anything happend. Nothing did, and I loved the second place, but again, there was money down the drain.

Tip #5: Try to book only refundable hotels. Or better yet, ones that allow you to check out early. Or if it’s a big hotel that you expect to have rooms, only book a few nights and then try to extend. They’ll almost always give you the price you paid for the first nights so it’s a good way to go!

But no matter how much your plan or prepare, there are things you just can’t predict or fix. Although I built in 4 hours of time in Jakarta between my arrival from Bali and departure to Tokyo, I could have never imagined that the airline would email me at 10 pm to let me know that they had changed my flight to leave an hour later. Because I had been through the baggage claim process and had experienced the lack of timeliness on the part of this certain airline, I decided it was best not to risk it. And although leaving 7 hours early meant I had to sacrifice on more $6 massage from Bali, not missing my connection makes it totally worth it.

Tip #6: Make sure you know what protection you have. Rules differ country to country, but generally speaking, if you’re going to be put out by something the airlines did, there should be some consideration for your needs. When this airline tried to tell me they wouldn’t put me on an earlier flight, I demanded they speak to their supervisor. And when he did, it was clear that I had permission to change my flight due to their schedule change. Same thing if they have technical difficulties and have to ground a flight overnight or leave you on the plane for an extended amount of time. Know the rules! And request compensation for the hassle. The worst they can say is no!

More tips to come, for now, I’m going to enjoy the last of my $10 massages here in Indonesia!

 

#journeyon

 

The funny thing about home

KARIBU!

Welcome, they said. The warm smiling faces that greeted me upon arriving in Kenya were so genuine. Welcoming me to their country. I have many friends who have visited different parts of Africa, many of them Black, and hearing stories about their feelings upon arrival gave me a certain expectation about how I would feel touching down in the motherland. And with this expectation came also so nervousness. I had no idea what the feeling was-maybe it was because it’s the farthest I’ve been from America. Maybe it’s because it was such an unfamiliar land. Maybe it was just gas…but I was ready to come HOME. Or at least feel like I was connected to the land by a force stronger than that which connected me to America. So I walked off the plane and set foot onto the African soil, but just like Diana Morales, I felt nothing. But it was just the tarmac, I told myself. So I walked into the airport, stood in the visa line and when my passport was finally stamped…nothing. But it was hot and there was a long wait. So I gathered my things in anticipation of the great powerful feeling that awaited me outside in the warm African sun. I emerged from the airport, and was greeted immediately by a row of drivers waiting to pick up their passengers. Now was the time, I thought. I searched for the man holding the sign with my name. Welcoming me, Cessalee, home to Africa. But he was late, and I went back inside to wait and I have to tell you. I just didn’t feel like home.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely fallen in love with Africa. I started my trip with two days in Nairobi where I kissed a giraffe, got nuzzled by an elephant, held a crocodile, named an ostrich, and got to visit a museum filled with living history and stories of true courage. Then I continued in Zanzibar where I went scuba diving in the Indian Ocean and had fresh fish cooked for me in a park. I sat on a beach and took my first Maaselfie, had tea with a cheetah and got raspberried by a lemur. A zebra gave me a rose and I gave a command to the king of the jungle and he followed. Then came the safari in the Maasai Mara followed by Lake Nakuru where I danced with an African tribe, watched multiple animals mating in the wild, and learned that even the cheetahs aren’t safe when there’s a lion around. I watched a kill, I saw day old babies being taught how to live, I saw elephant skulls that had been there for years. I truly saw and experienced so many wonderful things in Africa, I’ll have to do a separate post just about my itinerary!

But the only thing I didn’t do was feel like I was home.

It’s ironic because I don’t really have a “home.” I last lived in NYC in 2012, right before I left to start tour with The Book of Mormon and since then, I’ve been on the road for work or on the road to travel. I do have a storage unit or two in my hometown and my parents have the key, but a home…well I don’t currently possess one of those. And part of this #Cescapade is elongating the time before I need to drop back down from my wanderlusting cloud and find a job, in a city and make some moves to have a home.

When I talk to people about my trip, everyone thinks it’s pretty cool to be traveling so much and so far and mostly alone. And everyone has a comment or opinion about some place I’m going. It’s dangerous, it’s beautiful, don’t forget to haggle, it’s the best, you’ll love this bar or this hotel, make sure to do this excursion. And I am definitely the kind of person who soaks that up! I always keep a notepad to jot down the suggestions I get and truthfully, I’m the same way when people tell me about their trips. But this time, I think I allowed myself to get too wrapped up in how I expected to feel. I truly thought that whatever my friends experienced in coming to Africa would be my feelings too. Even more than the places on my list, I was most excited about the feeling I would get. This grand feeling of belonging. And that didn’t happen.There are people all over this world and someone has been everywhere. You can take tips and suggestions about where to go, but it’s up to you to decide how you feel. And it’s ok if it doesn’t feel like home, or however you expected it to feel.

So I’ll tell you what I did feel. I felt comfortable, I felt safe. I felt beautiful-in a country where everyone looked like me, the things that make me special stood out. My hair is a HOT MESS most days, but I got more compliments on it here than I ever have in my life. It made me feel like there was value in my skin, in my body, in my being. I loved that. I felt so welcomed by the most kind and warm people I’ve ever met. I can’t tell you how many stories there are of people being kind just because they are kind. And patient. And the scenery…my goodness. The trees, the mountains, the bright colors worn by the people, the buildings, it was just amazing. I’m pretty sure I cried about 10 times just because something was overwhelmingly beautiful. And those are feelings that I couldn’t have expected to have and to me they are more real and valuable than the “missing” feeling of being home.

And just to clarify, when I say it didn’t feel like home, I don’t just mean that they don’t feel like America, although they certainly don’t. But they also don’t feel like my home. The good news is, I have felt “home” before, so I am confident that when it feels right, I’ll decide to stay. But for now, as I say goodbye to Africa, I’m filled with excitement. I can’t wait to visit this beautiful land again and hopefully bring my family back with me. I feel like I have so much more to see and do. But when the next trip is over, I’ll be happy to head back home…wherever that may be.

#journeyon

Free as a bird in Zanzibar

Free as a bird in Zanzibar

Africa sure it pretty at night

Africa sure it pretty at night

Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara

My pal, Luck!

My pal, Luck!

Just a trio of cheetahs!

Just a trio of cheetahs!

The Lion Sleeps tonight

The Lion Sleeps tonight

Sweet little lion cub

Sweet little lion cub

CROC

I’ve been feeling a little guilty. I don’t think I posted ONCE during the European Adventure. So instead of a life lesson, I’m going to give you:

THE COMPLETE REVIEW OF CITIES! (Abridged) PART 1

100 words or so about each place and maybe a picture or 5!

SAO PAULO and RIO, BRAZIL: Not as scary as I convinced myself it would be. Everyone had me terrified that I was going to be mugged and robbed and beaten and tricked all at the same time, especially in Rio. I’m not saying don’t be vigilant and aware, but I wish I had started out with more fun than fear. The exchange rate makes things SO very affordable so I did quite a bit of shopping! You’ll be able to get by with only English, but be prepared to be patient and make sure you have google translate downloaded! Sao Paulo has a palpable energy, kind of like NYC. I loved it. And make sure to visit the Presley Pub in Villa Magdalena and tell them Cessalee sent you. Please take some time to run, sit and/or people watch in Ibirapuera Park. It’s a magical place. And take it easy on the caipirinhas. Trust me. Rio was great for the sights and although I had the guidance of locals, you can definitely wander about and find some great spots for nightlife! Get out of Rio and Ipanema. But please, go to Zaza Bistro. Please. For me. Be open, talk to people but not the crazy ones, and be ready to walk into a samba party at any moment.

COST OF VISITING:  $

FOOD: 4.5/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 4/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 3/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Escadaria Selaron aka Where the Snoop Dogg video was filmed

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Amazing piece at the Afro-Brazilian Museum in Iberapuera Park

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The museum had a replica of a slave ship-a must see!

DUBAI and ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Decadent. Luxurious, Imported. That’s how I can best describe Dubai in particular. It was cool, so other worldly. The architecture is stunning, the extravagance afforded to even the common tourist makes you feel like royalty. Thankfully we visited the souks in Deira and took a trip to the Dubai museum. Otherwise, I’m not sure we would have really done or seen anything authentically Emirati. The cab drivers, the restaurant and bar employees, the tour guides, the yacht crew..no one was a native. It was sort of like they have imported in people to run their city so they don’t have to get their hands dirty. Truthfully the only place I got to see “natives” was in the malls. Abu Dhabi felt like the business version of Dubai. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center is a MUST SEE. Probably one of the most stunning things I’ve seen on this trip. And what trip would be complete without at least ONE all you can eat Friday brunch? We chose Saffron at Atlantis and while I can’t say the food was particularly good, the drinks were a-flowing! Even Mom got in on the action, and we definitely had a good time. If I were to go back, I would love to see the cultural center and Louvre Dubai and Guggenheim Dubai when they open on Saadiyat Island!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$$

FOOD: 3/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 3/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 3.5/5

Sheik Zayed Mosque in Adu Dhabi

Sheik Zayed Mosque in Adu Dhabi

From the outside of the Mosque

From the outside of the Mosque

Brunch at Saffron in the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

Brunch at Saffron in the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

Here's to the ladies who Brunch :)

Here’s to the ladies who Brunch 🙂

Desert Safari with SAADI Tours! We had a blast!

Desert Safari with SAADI Tours! We had a blast!

OSLO, NORWAY: I didn’t get to spend as much time here as I would have liked, but it was great for the two hours I was there! I loved the Nobel Peace Center Museum. The exhibit of Malala and Kailash. So inspiring. The uniform Malala was wearing when she was shot is on display. It’s just so small, she was just so young. And she impacted the world. The Targets exhibit is pretty moving as well. It argues that if we have enemies, we are also enemies. And depicts the realities of war training throughout the world. Pretty moving stuff. The other thing I love about Oslo is how easy it is to get from the airport to city. You can take the FlytoGet which is super convenient and about $30 bucks..or you can take a train that takes 3 more minutes for $14! Baggage station to Central Station in under 30 minutes! Just ask the people to help you. They don’t offer up that info, but are happy to give it if you ask! It is a pretty pricy city. Cabs were definitely a lot more than you’d expect elsewhere to be prepared for that!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$

FOOD: N/A (I only ate at Joe and the Juice, a tasty chain with locations throughout Europe)

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 4/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

A lovely day in Norway!

A lovely day in Norway!

The Nobel Peace Museum is a MUST!

The Nobel Peace Museum is a MUST!

Gnomes and Trolls!

Gnomes and Trolls!

It truly is beautiful here

It truly is beautiful here

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: OOOHWEEE! This place was awesome! Definitely needed one more day there! Tivoli Gardens was pretty cool to visit. I got some roller coaster time in and got to see a rather strange show in the park! The Little Mermaid was ever so slightly underwhelming but I’m glad I got to see it. The grounds of The Kastellet were pretty cool and I highly recommend popping into as many churches as you can. I did head through Christiana to get to the opera house and it’s so crazy to think that a city sans law exists as well as it does. Truthfully I didn’t get to close, but it was really something to see. And don’t think you’ll get away with pictures. They will literally smash your camera on the ground. I went out to the Carlsberg Brewery and it as one of the better tours I’ve seen of a beer brewery. This self guided tour is a great way to learn about the Jacobsen family who founded two Carlsberg breweries and eventually brought them together. I would highly recommend the Copenhagen Card, I didn’t get it but almost everywhere I wanted to go took it. I think I would have saved a good deal of money. Speaking of money, it didn’t strike me as a super expensive place, it’s definitely on my list of returns!

COST OF VISITING:  $$

FOOD: 4/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4.75/5

Copenhagen from the water

Copenhagen from the water

A view from the RoundTower

A view from the RoundTower

Take a visit to Tivoli Gardens

Take a visit to Tivoli Gardens

The roller coasters are still run manually

The roller coasters are still operated manually

BEER!

BEER!

Denmark!

Denmark!

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS: This is another place I need to revisit. Luckily I have a one day layover coming up so I’m definitely going to take full advantage. I took a canal tour and even if there was no guide, it would have been magical. It feels like you’re lost in a maze that you don’t actually want to escape from. I think Amsterdam gets a bad name for being a hotbed of Red Light Vixens and Pot Smoking Hippies, but there is just so much more. Farmer’s markets are everywhere, great food, good beer, lovely canals to explore via boat or to admire via coffee shop..it’s just really awesome. Add in some great music and friendly locals and I’m sold! (Not to mention, the men here are pretty hot. Just saying)

COST OF VISITING:  $$

FOOD: 4/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 4/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4.5/5

Amsterdam is so lovely!

Amsterdam is so lovely!

The best airbnb of my entire European adventure!

The best airbnb of my entire European adventure!

The best

The best “coffee shop” in all of Amsterdam

Even the Red Light Ladies need a little Jesus now and then

Even the Red Light Ladies need a little Jesus now and then

The sun shines on A'dam

The sun shines on A’dam

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: I liked Brussels. As a food lover, I had my work cut out for me as I apptempted to do all of the important things in Brussels in under 24 hours. At one point I had a Belgian Waffle, topped with Belgian chocolate in one hand, some frites with two sauces in the other, while looking at Manneken Pis and drinking a Chimay. Thank goodness I’m not gluten free! In a strange turn of events, I also ended up at a lovely Ethiopian restaurant, Toukoul,  near St. Katherine’s and they took such great care of me, it was a most wonderful way to be introduced to Brussels! I really wasn’t there long enough to give you a full review, but my highlights definitely included the food, the skate park des Ursulines, the look of disappointment when people finally made it to Manneken Pis, the food, the square, the no-car Sunday, the abundance of delicious beer, and most definitely the food! I will be back, Brussels!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$

FOOD: 5/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 3.5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

There is an abundance of beauty in Brussels!

There is an abundance of beauty in Brussels!

Delicious Ethiopian food from Toukoul

Delicious Ethiopian food from Toukoul

There he is, in all is Pis-ing glory!

There he is, in all is Pis-ing glory!

BELGIAN FRITES!! Nom nom nom!

BELGIAN FRITES!! Nom nom nom!

Mmmm...chocolat!

Mmmm…chocolat!

FRANKFURT, GERMANY: Frankfurt is busy! Upon arrival you get almost an American-sort of vibe from the locals. People move fast and they definitely have somewhere to go. Sort of like New York but smaller, and lots more smoke. There are a lot of really cool things to see in Frankfurt and I had an excellent tour guide so I think I got the best of the best..but it still just wasn’t my thing. The food was good, the beers were big, but there was just something unwelcoming about the city to me. Of course that was juxtaposed with the most welcoming and lovely people I met through Alex, his mom and grandmother. We went to a small Apfelwein (Apple wine) tavern near his house and it was like we had entered another dimension. The owners, a pair of Middle Eastern brothers who specialized in pork products, knew and loved Alex’s family and as much as they welcomed them, they welcomed me! We had a few hours to kill before my flight and had an absolute ball! So maybe next time I’ll go for the Apfelwein festival in August and stick to the taverns and stay out of downtown!

COST OF VISITING:  $$

FOOD: 3.5/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 2.5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 3.5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 3.5/5

An ode to the walk-man!

An ode to the walk-man!

Architectural perfection in the train station

Architectural perfection in the train station

Even the malls are meticulously designed! This one has the longest escalator in Europe

Even the malls are meticulously designed! This one has the longest escalator in Europe

Alex's mom-such an awesome lady!

Alex’s mom-such an awesome lady!

This little lady is quite the firecracker!

This little lady is quite the firecracker!

BAD DURKHEIM, GERMANY: I loved this little town and wish I had more time there to explore! Bad Durkheim is the home of the largest wine festival in the world, Wurstmarkt. And while it literally translates to Sausage Market, it’s much more than than! It was a perfect preview to Oktoberfest. I was expecting the typical American wine festival with some wine tents and people offering tastings and pairings in small glasses and pinky-up sipping. Nope. Not in Germany you don’t. I got my first glass of wine in a pint glass. Let that sink in for a second. A pint of wine. You can see where this night is going. In addition to the wine, there were tents full of folks having a grand old time. Very rarely did I see someone “wasted.” I saw people having a great time, dancing, meeting their neighbors, sharing the good times together. And it was awesome. We rode the bumper cars where they do not take it easy on you, and a few of the rides before heading to our hotel that was on the grounds of the festival. In the morning we did a little shopping and while there were few people that spoke English, everyone was more than willing to participate in my game of charades until we could figure each other out! Definitely worth a stop on your next Oktoberfest trip!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$

FOOD: 3/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 3/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

Celebrating our Nomadness Travel Tribe!

Celebrating our Nomadness Travel Tribe!

A perfect way to end a great night!

A perfect way to end a great night!

I can't believe he made me do this!

I can’t believe he made me do this!

Ok, I”m going to stop here for now, because I’m here:

IMG_3110

Zanzibar, Tanzania

But I’ll be back to update more soon! In the mean time, I’ll get back to blogging! I promise, I’ll get back to my once a week schedule…but there’s just so much to do!! See you soon!

Journey ON!

Go your own way

Oh Iceland!

This trip has been absolutely phenomenal from inception, through execution and I’m pretty sure it will live on as one of my favorite vacations of all time! Back in January, I had decided to leave The Book of Mormon and after finding and booking a great deal for the European Adventure, I came across Wow Airlines‘ amazing deal to Reykjavik. For only $300 (plus a trip to Boston, one of my least favorite cities based entirely on the football team) I could come to Iceland. A few folks in my travel group had been talking about it and the pictures you see online are stunning. So what the heck, it meant I would get a nice long break of 6 weeks before going back into the workforce, I thought! So I posted on facebook:

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.21.16 AM

And within minutes, Drew replied that he was in. And while we had become facebook friends and frequent “likers” on each other’s pages, we had only met briefly once in LA through a mutual friend. Next came Amber, my cousin. We’ve talked many times about traveling but have never been further than Chicago together so this was going to be a new journey for us. And then Lindsey, one of my dearest friends from a show I did five years ago. Within 2 hours of posting, flights were booked and we were set.  With a few weeks to go, a good friend from college, Holly, sent a message while I was in Europe. Where will you be Oct. 13-17 she asked? A few hours later, she had a ticket and completed our crew headed to the Land of Fire and Ice!

The gang's all here!

Although at different times, we all arrived to Iceland and took up our places in our amazing airbnb and basically set off to explore! Truthfully a few hours passed before it really hit me. Four friends of mine who had never met before were going to be living and exploring this foreign land together. Someone asked how we all knew each other and with four eyes fixed on me, it meant a lot of responsibility to make sure everyone had the vacation of a lifetime. For me, it was one stop of many on my #cescapade. For them it was their a fully thought out vacation that likely would be the only one for several months. Take about pressure! So in typical Cessalee form, I stated worrying about the schedule and who needed to be where and when. And taking time to tick off all the boxes that my travel books and online research had turned up. And for three days or so we went around doing all of the stuff we “needed” to do. And I don’t mean to downplay that, they are high on the lists because they are awesome! The Blue LagoonHallgrimskirkja, Þingvellir, Scuba diving the Silfra Fissure and more filled our days with so much more excitement and beauty than we could have expected.

DCIM101GOPRO

Diving the Silfra

Lindsey, Drew and Cessalee at the Church

Lindsey, Drew and Me at the Hallgrimskirkja

Making Friends in the Blue Lagoon

Making Friends in the Blue Lagoon

But then we started to really explore. And the need for “planning” went out the window. Our scuba instructor Byron, wonderful man, suggested we take a trip down towards Stokkseyri; he claimed that the best restaurant he had ever been to was in this tiny little town and we needed to go. And from a man who has lived all over the world as a dive instructor and an advocate of humane food preparation, we trusted his opinion of seafood. THANK GOD we did! Holy cow, the lobster at Fjörubordid was unbelievable. Out of this world. And I had my first trip to a Black Sand Beach!  And the cave we stumbled upon off the side of the road was equally amazing. The 4th longest cave in Iceland gave us hours of adventure…and a perfect spot for photo shoots on the way to the most epic meal I’ve ever had.

The After. So much lobster.

The After. So much lobster.

The Before

The Before

5 Friends go into a cave...who will come out?

5 Friends go into a cave…who will come out?

Black Sand Beaches

Black Sand Beaches

We stumbled upon a flea market on Saturday, wandered into the Art Museum with had this curious display of teddy bears covered in wax. An entire room was filled with all kinds of archways and portraits with varying shapes and sizes of bears, some more worn/loved than others. On our way out, the woman stationed at this exhibit began to talk to us and we learned that Kathy was actually the artist of bears; truths…. She told us about her piece and how each bear was actually donated or rescued from local Goodwills; they represented the stories and secrets of children and in sort of a Pixar movie way, allowed their humans to grow based on the foundation they provided. I’m probably not describing this to make it seem as awesome as it was but man, I surely hope someone out there sees here package and brings it to the US. It was the trippiest, weirdest, but coolest piece I’ve seen in a long time! Amber is in school and in exchange for missing some of her classes, she has to interview entrepreneurs here in Iceland and because Kathy also owns a restaurant and 72 apartments in town, we went to her Korean-Asian-Islandic Fusion restaurant K Bar to eat while Amber did her interview. What an awesome woman! From owning a Montessori School in Berkeley to starting with one apartment for rent to becoming a multi buisness owner in Reykjavik, she has a life well lived! And she set us on one of the best adventures of the trip!

Us-is with Kathy Clark, creator of bears; truth...

Us-ie with Kathy Clark, creator of bears; truth…

Family Portrait with the Bears

Family Portrait with the Bears

All bears go to Heaven

All bears go to Heaven

Drew, Lindsey and I set out to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Using the notes I could jot down from Kathy, and the Drive it Yourself Map from www.IheartReykjavik.com, we set out for an adventure. What a day this was. The scenery was beautiful. Thankfully I was driving because I stopped the car no less that 821 times to take a picture. It was like you saw something and thought, nothing could be more beautiful than this spot. And you kept thinking that until exactly 7 seconds later when you saw something more stunning. The worst part of that trip was when a car was behind me or I was on a bridge and couldn’t stop the car in the middle of the road for a photo! We hit a few of the must do spots, with a 6 hour round trip drive without stops, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything on everyone’s lists. But for me, the most magical part of the trip was finding the double waterfall. Don’t ask me where we were, don’t ask me how to get back there, but somewhere between the Crater and Kirkjufell there is this little spot between a sheep farm and a sheep farm where you can climb into the waterfall. It wasn’t on the map, or a list, or suggested at the visitor center (we needed a bathroom…stat!), or by Kathy. There were no plans to see it. We just stumbled upon it. So it was ours. We made our own way.

IMG_0010

Living in the glow of the moment!

IMG_0006

Lindsey took a moment of intention.

Drew was just being Drew! Excitable as always!

There is so much beauty to see here in Iceland. I truly hope to come back and explore even more of this awesome country. But until then, I’ll keep the memories of the day I decided to chase waterfalls.

The Lighthouse at Stikkysholmur

The Lighthouse at Stikkysholmur

The cliffs at Arnastapi

The cliffs at Arnastapi

Great friends, great food, great adventure

Great friends, great food, great adventure

ICELAND

ICELAND

The Good Guys: Part 2

Traveling is awesome. Can you imagine trying to fulfill your wonderlusting desires in 1915? In just 100 years we have technological advances that allow me to book a flight to London while in Munich boarding a flight to Paris. From the internet to credit cards to flat bed seats, things are really looking up for us.

And that brings me to the latest edition of the Good Guys. Man, I have really, really been blessed to have such wonderful people walking across my path! These GGs that I’m recognizing today have been integral parts of my travel success and enjoyment.

Let’s start with my last night in Brazil. I needed to go to a Brazilian Steak House becuase who goes to Brazil and doesn’t go to a Brazilian Steak House (side note: The one I went to was JUST LIKE Fogo de Chao). I was seated next to this table of four and heard American accents…well, Texas accents to be specific. I remarked to them that I was nice to hear familiar sounds, to which the deepest Texas accent said, “Well just com’on over sugar. You can hear even more if you’d like.” And this was the first step into one of the best nights I had in Sao Paulo. The group turned out to be my flight crew for my flight home. After dinner, we went to listen to some live music and the pilot took care of me and the girls all night! On a night that I thought I would be getting to bed early and just having a tame ending to my first Cescapades stop, I ended up hanging out until 2 am having the time of my life! Thank you American Airline good guys for inviting me over to sit. Not only did you majorly boost my opinion of your airline, you also pulled this girl out of her shell on a night that I really needed it! You are officially on the list of Good Guys!

Moving over a few continents, we come to Brenda in Dubai. Man, I adore this girl! We met thanks to the Etihad Airlines glitch flight (Chicago to Abu Dhabi round trip, $200). My mom and aunt were with me (the original GGs) and we have some plans to hang out with members of the Nomadness Travel Tribe, of which Brenda and I are both members. Well, long story short, Brenda became fast friends with my family and within one day, I knew that if Brenda was there, the girls were ok. She honestly took better care of them than I did and it was awesome to see the ladies get to interact with my friends. When I told Brenda about my travel plans, she went out of her way to send a list of Paris hotspots and even paid for me to take a guided tour with a company she loves. Brenda, you’re a GG, and I cant wait to fall in love with your favorite city!

But being a GG doesn’t take much. Like Christine, the woman across the aisle from my on my Frankfurt to Berlin flight. So many delays caused everyone to be testy, but when we got off the flight we shared a laugh about the nature of German businessmen and she made sure to take me in her cab to get me to my location safely. Or there were Elodie, Diego and company in Munich who invited me to tag along with their oktoberfest festivities. Or the WONDERFUL airbnb hosts I’ve had in Berlin and Amsterdam who every so graciously made sure my stay was awesome!

Being a GG isn’t hard. We can all do it. So next time I’m home, I’m going to escort some lost tourists to Times Square. On second thought, I’ll just help them buy a CTA card.

Beautiful day trip to Brussles

The Europe leg is definitely the most rushed part of my Cescapade and that was completely due to my “planning.” At the time of booking, it was planned to be the only trip, other than GlitchGate, and then I was going to go back to New York and get a job. Because a month of traveling is enough for anyone-especially an unemployed anyone, right? 

  

#awesomehuman and his Mom

  
After spending New Years with one of my favorite humans and his Mama, Finn and Hezza, I got inspired to work towards my 40 x 40-a familiar phrase among the wonderlusting  folk that refers to hitting 40 countries by the time you hit 14,610 days…accounting for leap years, of course. I had only done 9 (10 if you count Northern Ireland as it’s own country) so I had a long way to go. I was almost 32 and accounting for potential years I would be pregnant or with small child and out of commission-again with the planning-I figured I probably need to hit about 8 countries a year on my good years and 2 on the off ones to make my goal. 4 good years, 4 off years and 2 baby years put me in good shape so I needed to hit 6 in this one trip.  Abu Dhabi was booked and there was talk of Iceland, and so a trip to Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Czech Republic (France is a repeat so it doesn’t count) began to take shape.

Operation Eurotrip was alive with a mission to basically get into as many countries as possible. The flights into Oslo were extremely reasonable (thank you Norwegian Airlines) so it was the clear starting and stopping point. Then came the fun part. In addition to the places that made the final cut, Sweeden, Greece and Poland were up for review, but something had to give. Brussels even almost got the axe but got saved by an amazing hotel at a great price! I narrowed it down to 10 cities. Let that sink in. 10 cities, one city twice, in 19 days. Whew..I can do this! 

  

Turns out, this is hard! It’s now Sunday and in the last week I’ve been in 5 countries. I’ve been on 3 airport shuttles, 2 planes, 1 train, a handful of roller coasters, a boat and tomorrow I leave on a bus! And I’m loving it, I truly am, but even the good Lord needed a day of rest! 
   

While it may look creepy, this man is actually running the ride!

  

Demnark! On a boat!

 
 So here I am in Brussels. And on my way here I pulled out my map of all the pre-starred, check-listed, fully planned things I needed to do during my 17 hours here. I reviewed my must sees and my should dos and by the time I got to my hotel I had a plan. 
But then I saw that a former-Belgian friend on FB mentioned a few areas not in my list. And the lovely clerk who checked me in mentioned the sauna and hot tub are open til 11. And then I got out and realized that it’s Sunday and many of the things in my plan just aren’t open today. 

So I stopped at the first restaurant I saw and filled my belly with some delicious Ethiopian food…probably the best Brussles has to offer. And I’m gonna snake my way to the monuments and see what I can see, and hopefully a few pieces of chocolate or a waffle makes it way to my mouth before that hot tub starts calling my name. And then I’ll probably be in bed by the time the is day football games air here. 

 

Almost in bed before football

  
And that’s ok. Sometimes plans don’t work out. And sometimes the best things in life happen by mistake. So here’s to taking a vacation from my vacation.
#journeyon

Midriffs and the Middle East

Last week my #cescapades took me to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my Mom and Aunt. When we arrived, I realized that “none at all” was a nice way of putting our pre-planning. None of us had any clue what we wanted to do. With only a few “must see” spots and group activities planned, we pretty much landed without a clue about the first move. It seemed the only thing all three of us had actually looked into was how to dress.

And when it comes to fashion my mom just wants to be cool. Literally. She’s not really a big fan of heat. Once we pass about 70 degrees, she’s ready to go inside. But she loves a sensible sun dress with a shrug! My aunt is a fashionista – looking good is ALWAYS important and in a place with such a rich culture and fine silks, she wanted to make sure to be in the running for Emirati’s top model…or at least look like it. I’m sort of ambivalent about fashion, but I like to be respectful. So all three of us landed in the middle of the desert with our cardigans and sweaters and long pants and maxi dresses and 2 hours in, we were soaked, I’m talking drenched, in sweat. And to make matters worse, we looked around and saw all the no-no’s our individual research had warned us against: exposed shoulders, short skirts, Bebe-I mean, WTF right? Here we are basically wearing our ski jackets and petticoats and these folks are just frolicking in their summer best! What gives?

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.58.59 PM

The Emirati culture is an absolutely beautiful one. The pride that the people had and have in their land and their work is clear to see today. The big Dubai boom came after the discovery of oil in 1966, but the foresight of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum is, in my opinion, what turned the United Arab Emirates into not just an oil producing region, but a major travel and business destination for the rest of the world for centuries to come. Throw in the exports to Iraq and you’ve stumbled upon a gold mine. And it’s understandable why people who are native to this land want to celebrate that rich culture. (all puns intended)

So thanks to booty shorts and American Apparel, it became pretty easy to pick out the foreigners.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 2.22.43 PM

Truthfully, there was a delicate balance between under dressing and over heating, but we gave it our best effort! We went to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (one of the three things we had actually planned) and we were ready! We went through the website several times to make sure we were in compliance: Nothing tight, nothing short, long sleeves, head covering, nothing transparent.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.52.33 PM

Mosque Manners for the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque

Of course upon arrival, all three of us were told we were in non-compliance and were swiftly sent into the basement to pick up our abayas. Sure, we were a bit frustrated at the lack of recognition of our efforts (ok..it was just me), but we went and made the most of it. And to my surprise, they were pretty cool. Our guide, Laila, also made a point to talk about the traditional dress of both men and women in the UAE. She said that she enjoyed wearing her abaya because it ensured that people were listening to her and not passing judgement based on her dress or her curves. Coming from a country where we regularly judge based on all sorts of things long before we even meet people (I’m looking at you, Tinder), it was a very interesting way to think about appearance.

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

So by the end of the trip, we relaxed our dress a bit. We weren’t so terrified to wear a v neck t-shirt or throw on a knee-length skirt. But the traditions and the culture definitely rubbed off on us. I may or may not have bought a few traditional dresses of my own. I have no idea where I’ll wear them, but I’m excited!

And more than anything, I left with a great deal of respect for the women in the UAE, or anywhere, who choose to wear their abaya, burqa, hajib, chador, or niqab or any other garments that allow them to feel comfortable. In the States, I’ve seen my fair share of side eyes at women fully or partially covered, but I get it now…at least better than I did before. And I have to say ladies, though it may not be MY look, I think YOU are beautiful!

Here’s to beautiful people, inside and out!

Ode to the Good Guys Part 1

Before I begin, I want to talk a little about this series. I recently met some of the most wonderful humans ever. I was in Sao Paulo having my last meal in Brazil when the folks at the table next to me saw me eating alone and invited me over. Turns out they were my flight attendants on my flight home the next day. I can not tell you how wonderful that night was, and how equally amazing my flight was, all thank to THEIR random act of kindness. So that meeting inspired me to just want to say think you to all the people who are wonderful or do wonderful things, just because. They are the Good Guys…and they deserve a little love so here’s my shout out/recognition/thank you to some of the Good Guys out there! And the first edition is my Mom and Aunt!

__________________________

Hello there from Dubai!

This week I’m traveling to the Middle East and I have my mom and aunt, Valerie and Cessalyn, along for the ride. Every few years we hit an international destination for their birthdays (Sept. 1 and 3) and it’s usually a pretty good time although we all have completely different travel styles. Mom wants to sit somewhere, preferably in air conditioning or at least with a major breeze, and read her book. Auntie wants to see and be seen, but with major breaks for resting and napping in the middle and I would be happy if I never sat down until it was back in the airplane seat to come home. Needless to say, we drive each other nuts. I’m always barking about tomorrow’s agenda, mom is looking for a place to sit down and auntie is ready to go back to the hotel.

But I wouldn’t trade these vacations for anything.

IMG_4419

Do you have any idea how cool it is to be able to travel the world with your family?

IMG_4511

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

IMG_4527

To be able to see and do things that I’ve never done and will hopefully never be coerced into doing again (I’m looking at you desert dune ride) with the people you love. I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. Now I’ve been married a time or two so I’ve definitely done trips with a signifiant other, and that’s great too-don’t get me wrong. But mom/aunt/daughter time is great because it after 15 years of not living in the same city, it gives me a chance to just hang out with my girls. There is no worry about the Christmas dinner menu or the birthday party for uncle so and so or whether or not we’ve got tickets to see my show and what she’s going to do while I”m at work, it’s just us. In a neutral place where I don’t know anyone or anything and you don’t either and to make it out with some fun stories, we’re all in this together. Sometimes I get short with them because we’re not on the schedule or they don’t have a seven item want-to-do list prepared upon arrival in Abu Dhabi. But the truth is, I love these ladies. I love these trips and the fact that I can still be 100% myself around my other friends here and my mom just smiles and laughs (and sometimes video tapes) is awesome. And after the after party turns to the after after party, I still want to go home with my family instead of hitting turn up Part 3. Just so we can get up early and do it all again tomorrow.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Atlantis Dubai

Ladies, you’re great.

But I hope you set your alarms. We have a lot to accomplish tomorrow!

That time I had white privilege 

In case you missed it, I’m a Black American woman.

   
 (I don’t take issue with the term African-American, I just wanted to use Black for this conversation.) I wouldn’t have passed anyone’s (except Bessie Smith’s) paper bag test, and I certainly wouldn’t find myself in pink in green had I pledged before 1950*. You get my point.

So last week in Brazil, I got this funny feeling that I’ve been trying to come to understand. And I finally figured it out. Or at least I sort of did. I felt White Privilege. Well, American privilege is more accurate. But it was this general feeling of ickyness. Feeling like I was able to do things and be places and receive a level of service not afforded to others. 

So to preface the situation, I have been on very stringent restrictions about how much I can talk. I had microlaryngoscopy and upon arrival to Brazil was only allowed to talk for 5 minutes out of every half hour. Add to that my entire grasp of the Portugese language can be summed up in one word, obrigada. 

So on day one, most of my interactions went something like this: I enter a store to silence and side eyes. Finally someone says to me, “sybbuinvetjknbcdyjb ssjijvgchbjohfer tsryunojdfg fsgvhinnnfd” to which i respond, “I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Portugese.” And as soon as those magical words escape my lips, the side eyes turned to smiles and impatience is replaced by pity.

Now to be fair, I don’t know the shopping culture in São Paulo or Rio and I can’t begin to assume I know everyone intentions. And most certainly, everyone didn’t have the same attitude. But I had a hunch so I needed to perform a scientific exercise to test my hypothesis. I needed to get out of the stores (mostly for my wallet’s sake) and into the street. 

For days I compared how many people genuinely smiled back at me on the street when I did or didn’t say hello. Two stinking syllables and all of a sudden I’m no longer a less-than Afro-Brazillian, now I’m an American with a great tan visiting your lovely country. I wish I could say it didn’t make a difference. But it did. And that made me laugh at first! Ha! I figured it out! But then I got really sad. 

I didn’t like that feeling. I didn’t like being seated first even though I came in last. I didn’t like people needing to warn me over and over about places because it wasn’t safe for “someone like me” only to arrive and find a multicultural area or just a bunch of brown people. I didn’t like seeing people who looked like me being literally kicked in the streets and no one doing anything. I just didn’t like it. 

And to think, should these same people visit the U.S., the Trumps of the world would hear them speak and instead of, “you’re a visitor in my country,” they’d get “I’m sure you’re an illegal in my country.” That’s some crazy stuff. (Now the whole topic of the travel privileges afforded to Americans that are withheld for other world citizens is just too much for this post, but I have a lot to say on that too!! 😉

So I think I would visit Brazil again, but I have a different perception now. While the whole of me isn’t my skin, the soul of me shares the color and history with those in my skin. I still don’t think I’ve totally come to the word or phrase for what I felt. But if this is what privilege feels like, I don’t think I like it. And I guess I’m glad I get to give mine back. 
   

   
 

*absolutely no shade intended to those mentioned. My step mom is a proud soror as are many family and friends.