a perfect weekend in san sebastián

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I’ve been a terrible traveler. A month in to my new life in Spain, I had already cancelled one trip (to my beloved Granada, of all places!) and had no desire to leave Madrid. This city and its people are being so generous and good to me, and I couldn’t imagine finding anything better elsewhere.

After all the incredible things travel has brought me, I should have known better.

Luckily, I had a ticket to the coast paid for long ago, and knew I couldn’t waste it. With a few quejas from my heart, I left my new home behind and hopped on a train north to San Sebastián for what turned out to be the most perfect long weekend.

Soon after the train pulled out of the station, I knew I made the right decision. The five hour ride flew by as my eyes fixated on the marvels we passed along the way: fields of sunflowers, charming old-world towns, herds of grazing sheep and endless green mountains. The rolling olive fields of southern Spain captured my heart long ago, but the north didn’t take long to seduce me. I fell in love through the window of coach number five.

I passed the weekend with the most wonderful company wandering through the city’s old quarter, breathing the sea air and eating and drinking marvelously. The gods were smiling on us as we were treated to fantastic weather and a few happy surprises. We happened to coincide with the film festival, and jumped at the chance to take in a brilliant film and hear the director speak. The following day, we hiked Mount Urgull and stumbled upon an indie rock concert at the top. We found a seat on a crumbling wall between picnicking locals and watched the boats bob in the bay below as the sweet sounds of John Berkhout consumed the hilltop. Our adventures were fueled by tasty little pintxos, plates of shockingly innovative cuisine and lots of txakolí.  Life can be so beautiful, and San Sebastián did a fine job of reminding me.

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Luck was on our side in this port town and it revealed its many hidden, and not-so-hidden jewels to us with ease. I’ll be back soon with a guide to the spots that wowed us, so hopefully you can have a perfect Donostia weekend as well.

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an escape to montauk

Montauk is my happy place. In difficult moments, I imagine myself laying on the deck of my dear aunt and uncle’s house there, watching the stars fall from the pitch black sky, listening to good tunes as the waves crash below. The beach town is linked to twenty years of memories with people I love so much, and its gentle breeze carries them all back to me. Montauk calms my soul.
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Nestled on the tip of Long Island three hours from New York City, Montauk provides an escape from urban life. Though considered part of the Hamptons, this little village is as far from pretentious as they come. It is above all a fishing town and a surf haven, where the people have been roughed up by the sea, but grounded by the beauty that surrounds them once the lighthouse guides them home.

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I have spent nearly every August of my 22 years in this most special place and this summer was no different, although I observed with a new set of eyes. I drank Montauk in unlike ever before, knowing that my days here marked my last on American soil for who knows how long. It’s not hard to live in the moment here, though. Treasures hide in plain sight around these parts, and call you to explore. To rise before the sun and watch the magic that happens as the world awakes. To see with your own eyes the wonder of creation as the island lights up the pebbles under the ocean break, as the birds chase the fishing boats beginning their day under the floating sun, and as the surfers balance patiently, worshipping at the alter of the sea.

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Recently, many have taken notice of the effortless cool of Montauk and it has quickly become the Hampton’s newest hot spots, with young promoters and developers converting village institutions into clubs and restaurants. In spite of the influx of visitors on the never-ending search for chic, our old girl has resisted change. She’s kept her charm, exposing it to those who come with genuine spirits looking for tranquility in the simple. There’s something to be said for a community that holds onto its traditions despite powerful forces of change. Montauk reminds me of Morocco in that way: full of institutions that transport you to a time passed, that rescue you from the influence of modernity and the pressure to be something you’re not. The places that encourage you to simply be, content in soul and spirit, who you are, to forget your troubles and remember your blessings…those are the places that will latch onto your heart. There is charm in the rust, in the salty locals, in the smile you draw from said local once they realize you respect and honor their place. The magic is in the details.

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Sidle down the storm-beaten cliffs and melt into the sand. Watch the sun set as this morning’s catch sizzles away on the grill. Treat yourself to a lobster roll near the docks as you watch the fishing boats come in, their barnacle-ridden hulls contrasting with the sailboats that bob on the horizon. Paddle board as the sun begins to fall, carefully avoiding the crab traps hidden along Fort Pond. Once  you’ve made it to the easternmost point of New York, there’s no need to leave. No need to retreat to the designer labels of the “real” Hamptons.  You have all you need to escape from those distractions in front of you.

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If New York is the best city in the world, Montauk is its heavenly counterpart. An oasis that restores sanity when the hustle and bustle  of the boroughs to the west starts to overwhelm. As I come to terms with the fact that chasing my dreams around the world means leaving my happy place behind, along with my city, I can only hope its spirit continues to grow, resisting the influence of “cool”. Montauk is cooler now than any club or hipster crowd could ever make it, because it strives to nourish the souls of both its inhabitants and its loyal visitors. To calm us with its whispering winds, its temperamental waves and its vast, brilliant skies. I will never stop coming back here, and when I am far, I will return here in my mind and let the calm wash over me.

DSC_0587DSC_0645 DSC_0644 Never lose your spirit, Montauk. Thank you for the memories, and for bringing together all the people I love. I’ll be dreaming of ya.

holiday in lagos, portugal

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I headed over to the sunny town in Portugal’s Algarve after finals last spring for a little sun, fun and adventure.

The white village is full of gems; from winding cobblestone streets and beach-side fruit stands, to incredible views along the cliffs and cavernous grottos that beg to be explored.

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I recommend starting your visit off on the cliffs, following the rocky trail high above the beaches. Teetering along the precarious terrain, you’re privy to all the secluded beaches, patches of wild flowers, and breathtaking views hidden away from the main stretch.

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Take your pick of one of the dozens of beaches; you can join the tourists on the easy-access plots, strip down with nude locals near the grottos, or scale the cliffs to your own private half-moon of white sand and clear water.

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Not a beach bum? Sign up for the kayak tours, where you can explore the grottos and check out beaches not accessible by land.

Can you spot the teeny kayak weaving in and out of the grottos?

Can you spot the teeny kayak weaving in and out of the grottos?

A slightly less labor-intensive activity is a stroll through the white village. The cobblestone paths and architecture in Lagos are charming, and you can find some real local treasures along the way.

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During our visit, we dined at the most wonderful little restaurant on one of the tiny streets off the beaten path. From our table we could see the water peeking out and watched the sun set over the walls of the town. The meal was one of the best I had in Europe, and the owner extremely welcoming and accommodating. The seafood is fantastic, the produce fresh, and the wine is always flowing.

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The party scene in Lagos is pretty incredible for a tiny costal town. Thanks to the awesome surfing there, the place is full of gorgeous Australian surfers, making for a very good time. The booze cruises are popular, and bars plentiful.

Full Disclosure: the partying there was a little much for me. Most drugs are decriminalized in Portugal, so people get crazy late night.

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Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation, or an active holiday, Lagos has something for everyone. No matter which route you choose, you’re sure to leave tanned, tranquil and with a belly full of some of the best seafood in the peninsula.