A Quick Summer Stop in Chicago

As you know (or may not know!) I work at Booking.com. I love my job because it means I get to eat, sleep, and breathe travel, which just so happens to be my all-time favorite thing to do. Specifically, I manage communications for the US, which involves strategically and creatively overseeing all of the ads we put into the market. Sometimes I travel to LA or other exotic locations for big, cinematic television shoots, and in other instances I sit at my desk in Amsterdam, sip coffee, and sense check content articles or Facebook posts before they go live. Part of my job also entails of identifying who our key consumers are and what they will react to. If I haven’t lost you yet, this means my job also requires attending and analyzing focus groups. Basically, I’m the creepy person who sits on the other side of the tinted glass window, making comments and taking notes. Focus group participants can’t see or hear me, but I listen in and try to get a read on what they think about Booking.com, our ads, or travel in general. It might sound snoozy, but I find this part of the job ultra-intriguing! Sometimes we put our heart and soul into a piece of creative work, and it gets shredded to bits by consumers in a focus group – yes, this really happens! There are also usually mini-kitchenettes attached to each observation room, so in addition to gaining valuable insights about our brand, I also have access to unlimited snacks and takeout options. What more could a gal ask for?! Where am I going with this? A few months ago, some focus groups we were conducting landed me in Chicago. It’s worth noting here that I also went to Atlanta and NYC on the same trip, but holy-hell Chicago blew me out of the water, and is the only city that gets a full, dedicated blog post ;) Maybe it was seasonal and due to the perfect, balmy weather, but damn, Chicago was pretty!

While traveling alone can be a bummer for some, I absolutely adore it. I have the drive to wake up early and explore, or head out after office-hours solo to discover something new. I think moving to Europe and living alone for a few years had a big impact on how I function – I am much more independent than I was five years ago. I really value Ali-time, and the ability to choose what I do next, or where I want to go without anyone else weighing in. I spend a lot of my holiday days traveling with family, friends, and Kai, but sometimes it’s nice to wander around a new city alone with a book, taking in the sights and stopping to read on whatever grassy green knoll takes my fancy! Continue reading

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A Work Trip to Santiago, Chile

While some people catch the South America travel bug, for me, it’s always been about Europe. I love history, architecture, and romance. Living in Amsterdam has given me the opportunity to travel to some of the most beautiful places on the content, and I’ve been very content spending free time exploring my own back yard while I have the opportunity. That said, I am not opposed to heading south of the border, especially if it’s cold, dreary December weather at home!These photos are a bit outdated, but as visiting Santiago was such a fun adventure, I wanted to chronicle a few photos from the trip on the blog :) I actually didn’t know I was going to Chile until about 4-days before the trip. We were producing two different TV campaigns at the same time, and one was scheduled to shoot in LA and the other was booked for Chile. My boss had earmarked going to Chile, and so I was expecting to oversee the shoot in California. However, due to a few last-minute changes, it was decided that my boss would travel to the LA shoot. So, 4-days before we kicked off production, I found out I was headed to South America, and had to scramble to get vaccines and visas and all of that fun stuff for my work trip to Chile! Continue reading

Bubbles & The Royal Ascot, UK

There are many wonderful things I could tell you about my trip to London for the Royal Ascot. I could tell you about my awesome friends Erin and Alex, who rounded up a big crew to experience one of their favorite pastimes. I could tell you about the Queen, the horses, or the amazing dinner we had at the hotel in Kensington the night before the races. And instead, the story I am going to tell you is an honest and sloppy one. Because apparently bubbles and horse racing go hand in hand, almost as tightly as gambling and big, fancy British hats. I’d never been to the races before, and so I didn’t quite know what to expect. My friend Erin, who frequents the races and makes intricate and stunning derby hats, prepped me accordingly. The Royal Ascot is the crème de la crème of horse racing. There is a strict dress code, a rich history behind the event, and even the queen herself is present! I expect a major fashion event, opulence, and spirited gambling. What I did not expect was the sheer amount of champagne consumed before, during, and after the event – to put it politely, it was a royal shit show. Continue reading

My 30th Birthday Part 2: Tuscany, Italy

Welcome to the Italian villa of my dreams. While I will probably never be a rich, aristocratic billionaire, I can certainly live like one for a weekend! To be honest, renting a huge-ass villa wasn’t necessarily my birthday plan. I wanted to celebrate with some friends in Tuscany, and as the list of attendees grew to around 25 people, it was clear that we would need a BIG place to stay.I’d envisioned a sophisticated birthday weekend, sipping wine in the sun, gobbling up homemade spaghetti dinners at a big table with all of my friends, visiting vineyards, and playing charades around a roaring, warm fireplace at night. Tuscany was my ideal backdrop for the birthday antics, and after pursuing Booking.com (hello employee discount!) I managed to find the MOST DREAMY villa ever to host the birthday crew and our antics. Let me tell you about this villa . . . .  Continue reading

My 30th Birthday Part 1: Bologna, Italy

Italy is hands down my favorite country in Europe. The landscape is so vast with hundreds of miles of rocky coastline, rolling hills and vineyards, tall mountains that broach the sea, and turquoise blue waters that lap the shores of pebbled islands. You have glorious Rome, with it’s dirty streets and brilliant pizza, Florence with endless artistic gems, Milan with elegant cathedrals and a knack for fashion. Everywhere you look there are glistening fountains, gelaterias, and elegantly-tall domed basilicas. If you escape to the countryside, you will find some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. And let’s not overlook the abundant olive and lemon trees – all hail the home of pesto! There’s Lake Como with it’s mermaid-worthy blue hues. There’s ancient villages such as Cinque Terra and Positano, carved into the cliffsides along the sea. And there are wonders of ancient architecture and engineering such as the ruins of Pompei and the Colosseum. There always seems to be a surplus of sunshine in Italy, which is perhaps why this country produces some of the sweetest tomatoes in the world. I did not truly believe tomatoes were a fruit until I tried them warm and sun-kissed off of the vine in Italy. And I guess that leads me to the food. If you don’t like pizza, pasta, warm oven-baked bread, or gelato, we can’t be friends. But you’ll still manage to find something to eat in Italy – the freshest mozzarella, seafood caught that day, tiramisu, panna cotta, and a schmorgesborg of soft cured meats, such as prosciutto (ideally wrapped around cool melon) are just a few of the country’s specialties. If your mouth is not watering and your heart is not lusting after an idyllic Italian vacation, I have failed you as a writer! For me, Italy is on par with England, France, Belgium, or Spain. It’s a country I’ve been to before but will never tire of, and try to visit at least once a year. This year, I totally lucked out. Amie and I went to Cinque Terre right around my 29th birthday, Kai and I went to Trieste in the summer, and then I spent my 30th birthday (finally getting to the point of this post!) in Italy as well. When I hit three decades, I wanted to be in my favorite country with my favorite people. And so I selected the best of the bunch from Amsterdam and the US, booked a giant villa, mapped out an itinerary, and flew into Bologna to celebrate thirty years Italian style with all of my favorites. Continue reading

Hiking in Morzine, France

Morzine is a traditional market-town nestled in the French Apls. The little village is strung with chalets that run through the center and then high up into the adjacent mountains. In the winter, Morzine is a skier’s paradise, and in the summer, it’s a desolate haven, filled with colorful flowers, restaurants that rarely fill up, and cool shady streets. The mountains are speckled with local kids playing football, and the far and few who do come to the area in the off-season to mountain bike, hike, or cave.While I have some pretty photos to share, I don’t have much to tell you about Morzine. Sometimes you go on a vacation and the destination is so foreign and exciting, you simply MUST sample all of the local cuisine, fully embrace the nightlife, shop to your heart’s content, and wander all of the major landmarks endlessly until you feel you’ve truly consumed the place. Well, going to Morzine was kind of the opposite. I tagged along with Kai and his friends, we stayed in a cute little Lincoln-Log-like condo at the base of the mountains, and just chilled. We had breakfast and lunch at home, we climbed the hills, we went swimming, we took adequate beer breaks, and we walked through the little town of Morzine.  Continue reading

Bikes and Beers in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia is wild and beautiful, with tall mountains and dark caves, warming dishes and endless vineyards, ancient cobble stone cities and a welcoming buzz that sweeps up visitors wholeheartedly. While there is so much to see and do in Slovenia, Kai and I spent a few days touring around Lake Bled and the mountains, and another day exploring Trieste, an Italian seaside town almost entirely bordered by Slovenia. While visiting Lake Beld was top of my must-do list, we’d heard that spending a few days in Ljubljana was practically obligatory when visiting Slovenia, and wow, and I glad that we did!
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, known for its sprawling green spaces, the peaceful and winding Ljubljanica River, and as home to a jewel box of colorful architecture. Continue reading

A Pit Stop in Trieste, Italy

While planning our trip to Slovenia, Kai and I realized that flights from Amsterdam into Ljubljana were quite pricy. Like, €260 each pricy, which was a bit more than we were hoping to spend on a long weekend trip in Europe. As our ultimate destination was Lake Bled, we knew we would have to rent a car anyways, as there are no airports in the close vicinity of the lake. So when we found €80 return trip tickets to Venice, which is only a 2.5 hr drive from Ljubljana, we quickly got excited about saving some money and also spending some time in Italy! Kai and I had both been to Venice before, and so we decided to do a pit stop a bit closer to Slovenia in Trieste, Italy. We flew into Venice late on a Wednesday night, slept at a cheap and cheerful airport hotel, took advantage of the free breakfast the next morning (ohh how my heart loves a good Italian breakfast of meats, cheeses, crusty bread, and espresso!) and hit the road early enough to arrive in Trieste by lunch time.  Continue reading

Cabin Camping at Lake Bled, Slovenia

Hello, are you still there? I know it’s been a while, like, a really, really long while. But life-insanity is starting to slow down a bit, and there are so many colorful travel photos in my back-log to share. Some highlights from the past few months? I wrote a book! If you enjoy my musings at Amsterdam & Beyond, you’ll probably love my take on Amsterdam in The HUNT Guide. It comes out in August and I am so excited to flip through the pages and hold my words in my own two hands! I write for different travel apps and sites around the web, but this is my first published print work.

Ohh, and I also bought an apartment. A horribly crappy apartment. It’s located in the canals, it has huge bright windows in every room, and it was just the right size. Other than that it was a sad shell, built in the 1960’s and not given much love since. And so I made floor plans, knocked down walls, steamed off wallpaper, commissioned builders, removed tiles, bought faucets, a kitchen, doors, and a big-ass bath tub. And two months later, voilà! With a little bit of imagination and a lot of hard work, my horrible-crappy apartment is slowly transforming into my dream home :) So those are the two big projects that took up most of my spare time the past few months, plus regular work, friends, family, and travel (as per usual!) 

Last September, Kai and I took a trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia. I stumbled upon these beauties earlier this week when picking out a few photos to print and hang in my new place, and was inspired to share! Continue reading

San Sebastian, Spain with the Girls!

Gosh, I am so behind on blogging. My next post will be a short and sweet restaurant review, but this San Sebastian post took AGES to get live because there were SO MANY PHOTOS to go through! I really need to stick to just 5-10 photos per post, because picking my favorites and editing through everything can be overwhelming! That said, I am happy to finally tell you all about my trip to San Sebastian with Amie, Jess, and Jess (yes, TWO Jess’s on our trip – double the Jess fun!)
IMG_0753As the girls were already planning on coming to Amsterdam at the end of April for King’s Day, we decided to tack a mini sun-holiday on to the end of their European visit. We picked a spot in Northern Spain that had ample sunshine, but during our stay the temperature hovered in the mid 60’s, which was wonderful for strolling around sans coat, but it didn’t really satisfy our desire for a beachy holiday (although there were many brave souls in minimal clothing lounging by the sea!) That said, we were more interested in pintxos, sangria, and sightseeing anyways, and fell blissfully in love with our flat that overlooked the sea! And I mean, LOOK at that view (above) from our balcony! Continue reading