Even though summer technically lasts from June 20 to September 21, I, as well as basically everyone else, consider summer in the U.S. to unofficially be from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During that time period, school is out, companies offer summer Fridays where you can leave the office early or take the day off completely and the beaches become packed with sun worshippers. It's a carefree and amazing time of year.
This summer has been a busy one. I started Memorial Day weekend with a trip to Ireland for work followed by a few days in Scotland. I also had two destination weddings in Italy and Jamaica and planned some travels around those events, including several days in Lisbon. I spent a long weekend in Chicago, some time in Connecticut and passed through South Florida. I also had many adventures around New York City. Needless to say, it's been a summer of movement, celebrations and memorable, sun-filled days.
Now that summer has unofficially ended, I decided to look back and highlight my favorite travel moments from the last few months. These days stand out to me because they felt like the epitome of summertime, full of warm weather, friends and/or family, laughter and simple enjoyment.
River Cruising and Eating My Way Around Chicago
I love traveling to a city I've never been to and delving into the culinary scene, and Chicago was no exception. I knew I had to try the city's deep dish pizza, and I also knew I had to visit one of Stephanie Izard's restaurants. As a Top Chef fan, I have long known about Izard's popular hot spots in Chi-Town and decided to check out her first post-Top Chef venture, Girl and the Goat. But before that, my sister and I started our day with a river cruise of Chicago, which was a beautiful and fascinating way to learn more about the city. We then walked from Navy Pier to Lou Malnati's where we had amaaazing deep dish pizza. Afterwards, we did some more walking around Chicago before spending a few hours of down time. And then came Girl and the Girl, and it was everything we hoped for and more. My sister and I loved it so much we returned two days later to try some more items from the menu that we couldn't eat the first time. No regrets. We would do it again. It was a great first visit to Chicago, and I can't wait to return soon.
Enjoying Puglia Life and Celebrating My Friend's Wedding
I would like to think that I would have one day visited Puglia on my own, but I can't say that with any certainty. What I can say is that I'm so glad my friend got married here, because I got to discover a gorgeous part of Italy that isn't visited by many tourists. While those who do visit Puglia tend to go to the southern part, my friend got married in northern Puglia in Manfredonia, and I stayed at a beautiful hotel with friends in Mattinata. On the day of her wedding, my friends and I shared a great breakfast (and mini dance party). We then had some time to kill before the wedding, so we decided to swim to some caves and a hidden beach that one of my friends had discovered the day before. I wish I had taken pictures, but alas, I didn't have a waterproof camera at the time. After swimming to the caves and hidden beach, we returned to the hotel, where we hung out by the pool with Prosecco, Italian aperitivo and music until it was time to get ready for the wedding. The ceremony and reception were both incredibly beautiful and full of love, and the day ended (for me) around 5am, just as the sun started to come up. All in all, it was a special and memorable day.
Biking Around the Vineyards of Franciacorta, Italy
After spending time in Puglia, my friend and I flew up to Milan, rented a car and drove an hour outside of the city to the beautiful wine region of Franciacorta, Italy. While there, we took a ferry across Lake d'Iseo, explored Monte Isola (the largest lake island in Europe) and enjoyed Italian aperitivo. We also spent a day biking around the vineyards of Franciacorta. We were sweaty (at least I was), parched (shout out to Ca' del Bosco for telling my friend and I that they had absolutely no water available) and, by 3pm, tired. But it was amazing. We cycled up hills, around vineyards, past giant sunflowers and weathered villas and through quiet towns. We eventually ended up at a small and relatively new vineyard called Courteaura, where we were graciously invited in, given a glass of their sparkling wine and my favorite Italian snack, taralli, and then a brief, private tour of their cellar. Following that visit, we went to Contadi Castaldi for what we thought would be a standard one hour cellar tour and tasting. That one hour turned into three hours of wine tasting, chatting with the other people on our tour and learning about the vineyard's operations. It was one of those experiences and days I'll never forget.
My First Night in Lisbon, Portugal
After leaving Milan, I landed in Lisbon on a Friday afternoon. As I always like to do, I knew I wanted to drop off my stuff, put on some comfortable shoes and walk. I think you get a good feel of a city when you walk, plus it balances out the food you eat along the way. In the case of Lisbon, I did a ton of walking while I was there but I also had quite a few pasteis de natas, so it evens out. During my first night, I walked 30 minutes from my hotel to the Time Out Market but then realized I was so close to the water and decided to keep going. I'm a true Pisces and am always drawn to any body of water, the Tagus River included. By the time I made it to the water, the sun was started to go down but the people were starting to come out. Restaurants lines along the river were crowded with people while, further down, a DJ was playing music as a crowd of young people danced and enjoyed a few drinks as the sun set. I knew I couldn't walk past this, so I bought myself some Portuguese sparkling wine, grabbed a seat and enjoyed the view and the vibes until the sun was almost gone.
Cheering for Usain Bolt at Half Way Tree in Kingston, Jamaica
Every four years, I become obsessed with two Olympics sports: women's gymnastics (yay Simone Biles) and track and field. Being of Jamaican descent, I of course have to root for the legend himself, Usain Bolt, as well as athletes like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Yohan Blake and Elaine Thompson. But never did I think I would get the chance to root for Bolt, Fraser-Pryce, Thompson and others from the celebration center of Jamaica: Half Way Tree. The opportunity arose when my family and I flew to Jamaica for my cousin's wedding. We landed in Kingston around 6pm local time, giving us just enough time to drop off our bags, grab some food and head to Half Way Tree in time to watch Usain Bolt win the men's 200-meter final race. The energy and atmosphere were electric, to say the least. In between races, buses drove by and vendors sold everything from peanuts to Jamaica flags and vuvuzelas to whistles and other paraphernalia. The minute Bolt emerged onto the large screens set up in Half Way Tree, everything stopped and a fever pitch cheer rose from the crowd. And then when he won the race, everything got louder, more electric and much more spirited. And then, not long after, the crowd dissipated to go celebrate and return to their lives, happy with the knowledge that the fastest man in the world was still the fastest and came from the likkle but tallawah island of Jamaica.
A Morning on the Water in Port Antonio, Jamaica
A few days after watching Bolt win the 200-meter race, my family and I attended my cousin's wedding in Port Antonio, which was beautiful in every way possible. Being a morning person and someone who likes to stay active, the day after the wedding, I got up early and decided to go for a swim before breakfast. After a big meal with family, my mom and I decided to take a boat tour, which would leave out of Port Antonio's famed Blue Lagoon (the one of the movie with Brooke Shields), along the coast and around Monkey Island. It was a perfect morning to be on the water and get a new perspective of the area. Our tour guide pointed out various villas and the famous people who've stayed there (Rihanna! Tom Cruise! Naomi Campbell!) and also told us some of the backstory behind the Blue Lagoon and Monkey Island. While he spoke we whisked across the sparkling water, which alternated between deep, dark blue and clear, crystal turquoise. During the boat ride, our guide pointed to a tucked away corner of the lagoon to the mineral springs, which are said to make you look younger. After we got off the boat, my mom and I decided to check out the mineral springs ourselves, which were unbelievably freezing. I suspect you emerge looking younger because the water shocks the age out of you and freezes your pores. Just my guess. Either way, it's worth taking a dip.
Swimming with Friends in a Secret Lake in Connecticut
Towards the end of the unofficial summer, I had a mini reunion with two friends from grad school who I don't see nearly often enough. One of them lives in London and the other in Montreal (hey, favorite cities!), and the one in London invited several friends to her family home in Connecticut for the weekend while she was in the States. I wasn't able to join for the entire weekend but I spent Saturday night to Sunday afternoon with her and her family and friends, and it ended up being a wonderful getaway from New York City. It also just felt like what summer should be — sunshine, fresh berries (the best raspberries ever), blueberry pie, boats, drinks outside and a day of swimming in a lake in Connecticut that shall not be named. This secret lake was so peaceful and beautiful that I wanted to return every day until the warm weather slowly faded away. I hope to be back there one day and to have that same feeling of freedom and friendship.
There were so many other enjoyable moments throughout the summer, both in and outside of New York City, but these are the ones that stand out to me as the most special travel moments (there were a number of non-travel moments that were also pretty special).
As we slide into the fall and head towards winter, I'm excited for the rest of what 2016 has in store, including another destination wedding in a city I've wanted to go to for a long time, Savannah, Georgia. I also have a family vacation planned, a girls' weekend and a few other adventures tucked in between. So, though I am sad summer is coming to an end, I look forward to seeing what other great travel moments await.