Tag Archive: travel

Six Months of Airbnb – Traveling in My Own City

Six months ago, I gave up my lease on a Manhattan apartment and embarked on an Airbnb adventure, living in a new place approximately every month.

Before then, I’d lived in a large studio in the east 20s for several years, filling my apartment with stuff and slowly realizing I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what “different” should mean. I’d have a tough day, come home, and buy dresses online to make myself feel better. It was a good feeling that lasted for about 30 seconds after I hit the “Buy” button. Dresses would arrive in boxes, and I’d let them sit in the entryway for weeks.

My parents would bring stuff too — more clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen implements, a form of love that fit my life at the time. I bought feng shui items to try to make my cluttered home feel more open. It worked for a while. But I came home one night last December, walked into my apartment bursting with stuff, and burst into tears.

I felt suffocated. I didn’t know why I was doing this. Why did I need to accumulate more, what was the point, if it held me down and prevented me from trying all the things I wanted to try?

I started to think about getting rid of all my stuff.

Getting Ready for the Leap

I watched videos online of people who’d done it. They had one backpack, and they were roaming the world, doing what they felt like.

That level of minimalism was not for me. I wanted more than one backpack. But I decided to start paring down and see how far I could get.

I gave notice on my apartment at the end of February and called the Salvation Army to set a pickup date. I browsed Airbnb to find promising listings for my new adventure. I wanted roommates, because I’d lived alone for too long. I wanted to shake up my way of life entirely.

One month later, I had three bags of stuff.

Empty Apartment

I walked through my apartment with the super, then closed the door behind me and took a taxi across town to my first Airbnb apartment. There was no moving van and no giant moving fee and no hassle. It was awesome.

Airbnb 1 – April

I chose a loft in Chelsea for the first month, April, living with a fashion photographer. It was directly across from Google and half a block from Chelsea Market. It was also convenient to the subway, which was great because I was still working. I was still weighing whether I needed a change of everything, including my job, or just a change of scenery. I gave myself one month to decide.

The loft was gorgeous, a self-contained space with a living-room area, desk, small mini-kitchen, and loft bed. The walls were covered with artwork, a friendly cat and dog lived in the apartment, and my roommate was the most amazing person I could have hoped for. We talked about life and he cooked delicious breakfasts and we watched Game of Thrones every week. I read programming books in my spare time. I looked out the window and felt life speeding up. At the end of the month, I gave notice at my job.

Airbnb 2 – May

On May 1 I moved to Brooklyn, to a two-bedroom apartment in Boerum Hill. My roommate was in technology, and with similar interests we had great discussions about technology and politics. It took a few days to adjust to the slower pace of Brooklyn — I’d wanted to try it, but at first it felt suburban, and I wasn’t sure about the low-key vibe. By the end of the month, I felt at home. I became friends not only with my roommate, but with his dog, and enjoyed the fully equipped kitchen and projection screen. Also, for the first time, I felt like part of a new community. I was moving toward something instead of away from something.

At the end of the stay, I decided I still had too much stuff. Moving was a struggle, and my suitcase was too heavy. So I left the suitcase behind for my June travels, and just took a backpack and a shoulder bags with a small purse inside of it.

Airbnb 3 – June

After my last day of work, I went to AltConf in San Francisco, so I didn’t rent a place in New York for June. Instead, I stayed in a Pacific Heights Airbnb for a week, in one of the most ideal rooms I could imagine. The Airbnb listing didn’t have professional photos, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the place was a tiny brick house on a hilly street, the apartment was clean and quiet and full of light, and the room in the back had a bed, a futon and a tiny fireplace and desk. I slept so peacefully there that, once again, I felt San Francisco embraced me as a visitor.

Airbnb 4 – June

In between trips to visit my parents and to see friends in upstate New York, I spent a few days in Manhattan in late June. I chose the West Village, since I’d always wanted to live there. It was a great experience but really no better than other neighborhoods, which allowed me to put to rest my inflated expectations. The best part was meeting my host and the other travelers staying with her. This is something I’ve found to be true with Airbnb — there’s almost always another roommate in the picture at some point. I’ve been fortunate to have great experiences, but it is something to be aware of, if you’re thinking of booking a private room instead of an entire apartment.

Airbnb 5 – July

After traveling in Canada (at an official B&B, not an Air), I returned to New York in late July for Hacker School. I chose an Airbnb room on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, directly across from a Le Pain Quotidien. I needed more than just a backpack for the next three months, so I bought a tiny carry-on suitcase that was easy to carry up and down stairs. Along with my backpack and shoulder bag, this was all I had and all I needed.

I loved living in Brooklyn Heights. The room was quiet, huge, and beautifully furnished. I could look out my window and see people dining on roof decks and then go downstairs to see people dining on the street. I didn’t see my roommate much, but enjoyed the conversations we had and then enjoyed the peacefulness of the space and the neighborhood.

Airbnb 6 – August/September

My final stay in New York was in Dumbo, where I’m typing this now. I live under a bridge, and the noise of trains is my companion. I love it, for the time and the place and the atmosphere and the industrial/new/old feeling. The apartment is a mid-century furnished loft, my roommate is amazing, and the little dog is incredibly friendly and playful. The water is filtered, there’s a trampoline to jump on for exercise, and I’ve gotten a lot done while living here.

Dumbo loft

I’m also ready to move on to what’s next. My “rent” next month will be in Florence and Tuscany, where I’m traveling for a post-Hacker School change of scenery. My goal is to maintain my pace of learning while seeing new places and having new experiences and considering what’s next.

I’ll be back in mid-November to decide for sure. My period of discovery will need to shift to a period of implementation or form a strange hybrid of the two, which could be even better.

But I still won’t have any stuff. And I’m happy about that. The important things in life are love, experiences and giving back — leaving something good behind. Stuff has no place in that equation, for me. It gets in the way. It’s a placeholder. I’ve learned to admit it, and clearing my life of stuff has done me a great good. It’s allowed me to see what’s important to me, focus on what’s important, and get things done.

Traveling in my own city, with Airbnb, has been an amazing experience.

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Hacker School, Week 9 Postscript

I can’t believe week 9 of Hacker School just ended. Because of varying start dates for different Hacker School batches, batch lengths can vary. My batch is 11 weeks long, not 12, so week 9 is pretty far toward the end.

I’m learning a lot. I feel like I’m on a march to get as much done as possible in the time allotted, though I know this is an artificial deadline. I’ll keep learning the next day after Hacker School ends, and the next, and the next.

Granted, I’ll be learning in a hammock on a farm in Italy, which will be a nice change of scenery and pace. Instead of going out for dinner when I’m hungry, I’ll pick tomatoes and bake some organic bread.

But I still feel pressure about the upcoming end of the batch.

One of the great things about Hacker School is its open-ended nature. “Never graduate” is their motto, and they mean it. I’ll still be able to visit the Hacker School space on Thursdays, nights and weekends after my batch ends, and I’ll be able to attend Monday night talks, which means I’ll continue meeting great people whenever I’m in New York.

But I won’t be in Hacker School. I’ve loved this experience for the pure learning-friendliness of it, and I’ll miss the feeling of shared focus. I don’t feel quite ready to leave, but at the same time it will be nice to find out what “post-Hacker School” means for me.

I’m putting together some lessons learned that I’ll post when I’m done and on my way.

The Last Days of Drifting

I wrote this during a long layover at Frankfurt Airport, on my way back from Barcelona to the U.S. in February. When I got home, I gave notice to vacate at my Manhattan apartment and gave away all my stuff, and this crazy adventure began.

At this point, I’m unifying my life, slowly merging my various social media profiles, learning and exploring and creating resources to help other people learn and explore. Looking back at where I was, I give thanks that I’m past that period.

Time in the airport spirals. It spirals in a haze of pleasant white light (in the business lounge) or harsh fluorescence (in the walkways) and becomes endless. I read half of a book (Nail It Then Scale It). I jot down ideas for iterating on a project. I get more tea. Then water. Then tea. Back and forth to the counter, aimless, sliding seamlessly on Lufthansa’s predefined paths. 

I’m bored. I thought a seven-hour layover was a good idea. 

I do like long layovers in a strange, undefined way. They are the fuzzy part of a trip. The pit of potential productivity. I could create something great here, in the airport lounge. I could write something, plan a new feature, get a new idea, implement new code, or just do nothing. Tea. More tea. Back and forth. 

Mostly people don’t talk to each other in the business lounge. I find I’m more productive, because I’m not constantly seeking the next conversation. I meet people on planes all the time, because we are stuck there and the proximity favors talking, at least before we fall asleep or tune each other out with headphones.

I imagine being stuck for days or weeks, walking endlessly from terminal A to Z in simulated comfort, buying boxes of Niederegger marzipan because it is the best thing in the airport. Washing it down with Courvoisier. Yuck. Or water, sold with a smile. Guten tag, Hola, Hello, Hallo, it all sounds the same. The food is better in Europe. 

The guy behind me left. That’s good, because I was uncomfortable writing with him there, felt that he was peering over my shoulder even though of course he was not. Airport privacy is transparent, artificial. We are each perfectly alone and completely seen. I am sure there are cameras in the ceiling. 

I wonder who is doing actual productive work here and who is aimlessly browsing the Internet or reading a book for pleasure or just staring into space. Staring into space is actually a good disguise for productive work, happening behind the scenes. 

Right now my life is in fragments. I am not on Facebook. I alternate between relief to have avoided drama, and wishing for a presence so I wouldn’t need to start a blog to post thoughts. I want to unify my social media presence, so my life is seamless and I can share what I want when I want with who I want. I have my LinkedIn persona and a new G+ page, a blog on organic food and general wellness, and a site for organizing MOOCs and online learning resources. I have a dormant site for people who want to move cities. 

I really want to unify my life, not my social media presence.

The airport is buzzing quietly with the noise of suitcase wheels and heels. People coming and going, in between. 

My Big Nerd Ranch Diary

I took vacation to attend the Big Nerd Ranch iOS Bootcamp last year. It was my favorite vacation ever. That’s when I knew I was on to something.

Today, I start Hacker School. I’m taking this moment to look back and share my Big Nerd Ranch diary. Every night in rural Georgia, I came back to my cabin in the woods and wrote my impressions of the day. Here’s what happened during that week:

Friday

I’m in my cabin after Arrival Day at Big Nerd Ranch — I’ve been anticipating this trip for about a year but wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m impressed so far.

First, the staff at Historic Banning Mills are heroic. Although I grew up camping as a Girl Scout and once could survive on Mountain Dew and Skittles, I am a city girl at this point in my life and had a health crisis that scared the Skittles right out of me. The thought of spending a week in the woods eating hush puppies from the lodge kitchen didn’t thrill me.

When I asked about food, Big Nerd Ranch staff said they would ask the kitchen at Banning Mills what they could do. The kitchen said if I could ship food direct from a provider to them, they would cook it for me. That scored about 1,000 points right there. I used Boxed Greens, which ships organic food nationwide overnight. The food arrived a few hours before I did.

THEN the kitchen staff kind of got into the idea. They said they wanted to buy more food to complement the contents of the box. They’ve considered offering an organic option for students, so I think they viewed this as an experiment. In return for their awesomeness, I gave them carte blanche to create whatever seemed interesting to them. My first meal, this evening, was delicious: a kale/peach/cucumber salad, followed by salmon over lentils with kale, tricolor peppers, and onions. (The regular food also looked tasty — salad and then herbed chicken over mashed potatoes with asparagus.)

Now I’m in the cabin, relaxing. Speaking of the cabin, it is huge and gorgeous.  More good things about today — the wonderful shuttle driver at the airport who did not leave anyone behind, and my fellow classmates, who are friendly. I’m looking forward to spending a week getting to know them better while my brain gets a workout in the class. It’s a challenging (grueling?) schedule, but I’m ready and plan to make the most of this opportunity.

Which means I’m going to sleep soon. More tomorrow.

Saturday

Class today was surprisingly easy and doable — but I am so glad I worked my way through the BNR Guide to Objective-C Programming last year! Struggling with this book over four months helped me rush through half of it today. We cover the other half tomorrow. If I’d walked into this class with no programming experience at all, I’d be in trouble on Monday, when we dive into iOS apps.

I still may be in trouble on Monday. The reviews I’ve read say the pace picks up fast then, so the fact that I’m finishing challenges quickly puts me somewhat at ease, since I may be able to keep my head above water on Monday and Tuesday. After that it’s anyone’s guess, because at some point we will start covering material beyond the point I’ve reached in my BNR iOS Programming Guide self-study. Then I’ll be learning entirely new stuff. And that takes longer, but we’ll still be flying through the material. I’m hoping that by getting the basics down well in this weekend intro, I’ll be able to survive through the week with some understanding and real ability to get the most from the class.

Also, I learned that there is an advanced book for the advanced class! It is, sadly, not available on Amazon or in any bookstores. Another reason to possibly take the advanced class later this year or next. I’m hoping that between now and then, I can dive in and create some real apps for free on the app store, just to test the waters and see what happens.

Anyway, more tomorrow. I was surprised not to find myself tired or burned out by 9:30pm, when I came back to my cabin. Maybe it’s a good sign, but I’ll wait and see how tomorrow goes. Food was delicious, as it was yesterday, but I am afraid my statement that, “I eat fish,” was received as, “I eat fish at every lunch and dinner.” In truth, I eat fish a couple of times a week. If fish continues to appear at every meal, I may have to say something — but what can I really say, anyway? They are preparing custom organic meals for me! Today some little potatoes and wax beans appeared — I think they are shopping for me, to supplement the stuff I sent in the box. Amazing kitchen, amazing place so far.

More tomorrow.

Sunday

My brain is starting to get tired. We rushed through many topics today, and while I understood most things, they are starting to jumble together in my mind. I’m hoping my mind can sort it out by the end of the week, and that I don’t end up dreaming all night about coding, because that would be about 20 hours of coding per day, which is a lot more than 12, which is what we are essentially already doing.

Today we finished the Objective-C book and I reviewed the documentation for NSArray, NSMutableArray, and NSDictionary. Tomorrow we dive into iOS Cocoa Touch programming.

I am loving the class, despite my brain-whir, and found myself wishing I could attend for two weeks or a month and really delve into more and more advanced topics. We’ll see how I feel on Thursday and Friday; if I still feel the same, this may be amazing for me.

The classroom is light, bright, and free of awful bugs. There were some small winged creatures on my desk this morning, but I let them be and they flew away (or my neighbor squashed them while I was in the bathroom).

More good conversations with other people who are here to learn; I love being in a room full of people who are mostly there by choice, since the attitude is amazingly good and therefore so is the experience overall.

Organic food from the kitchen continues to be good, although also salty; today I learned that this is not limited to my dishes. All of the food is very salty/spiced. I keep drinking water; can’t bring myself to complain about it. Lunch was shrimp escabeche — over red cabbage with a tomatillo sauce (I’m not sure what was in the tomatillo sauce, but it was awesome). Some delicious cauliflower with dinner, and nicely cooked yams, plus more fish. I don’t know if I will eat fish for a while after I get back.

It rained today so there was no nature walk. I did see zip-liners breezing past through the pouring rain.

More tomorrow.

Monday

Day 4 of my adventure, Day 3 of class. This is where the blogs I’ve read have dropped off, and now I see why. We covered a prodigious amount of stuff — nearly 200 pages of the iOS Programming Guide. I am getting a better understanding of some things that confused me the first time around, but I still wish I had an extra day to put it all together — the basics, the new techniques — but we just keep steamrolling forward. I don’t have time to do all of the Challenges in the book, and I really wish I did, because I’m learning a lot and I’d learn even more then!

I think I’m keeping pace reasonably well. A few people are behind me, some people are ahead of me who have a lot of coding experience, and some are about on pace with me. I think this is a marathon and not a sprint so I’m okay with it.

I do feel gratified doing something for my own self-improvement that is also productive and useful, potentially, for others who might use my apps someday. I hope I can build a lot of productive and useful apps upon returning home. I certainly feel like I’ll have a running start.

This is a good environment for learning. I have almost no time to myself, which is weird, but I’m getting a lot done and reminding myself that this is temporary and necessary. What I am getting is time to concentrate, even among others, which almost never happens. I forgot how much I enjoy super-focused days.

The food remains delicious — and today it was not salty, since when they asked me what I wanted to eat, I said I would eat anything they made for me but please to go light on the salt. It was a great food day.

It was a great learning day. I wasn’t tired at 10:15 and only left because I knew I had to get some sleep to keep up the pace for the remaining days here. I found a centipede in my bed when I came back, so I called to ask the front desk if it was poisonous. They said no and also sent a nice staff guy to pick it up and remove it from the cabin. It was a nice little creature, I guess, if I were used to creatures.

More tomorrow. Bedtime if I want to get a full 7 hours of sleep. (First night: 9. Second night: 8.5. Third night: 8. I see the pattern. It stops now.)

Tuesday

Unbelievable amount of learning happening today. I’m starting to connect the dots, and know why I need to make a change. Even when I make a mistake I understand what the mistake was after it’s pointed out to me. I still make mistakes nearly all the time; but I also do some really cool things, like find a method the instructor didn’t know about, and try to figure out how to make it work; or set up new functionality to make things more efficient — and it works!

I’m a little bit on overdrive and finding it hard to sleep, but it’s good — it reminds me that it’s still possible for me to feel alive when contemplating work tasks, and to concentrate hard on something for several days at a time. I spend most of my regular workdays so interrupted by multiple tasks that I feel like I never get anything done. This is a refreshing change. At 10pm tonight when I still wasn’t physically or mentally tired, I realized that this is something that’s been missing from my life for a while.

I’m going to sleep now so that I can function tomorrow morning. I want to hit the ground running — again.

I am in nerd heaven. I think I may have tapped into something really important for me — other nerds.

Wednesday

Today was the first day I felt tired, and I struggled to keep up. We were on a rushed pace to try to make up some time, since we’d fallen behind by about one lecture. By day’s end, we were caught up — but that meant about an extra 2 hours of time. Lectures ended at 8:15 and I wasn’t caught up until 10:30. Lots of other people were there too, and we were kicked out of the learning room around 10:40 (after a few well-deserved games of Typeracer).

There was one point in the afternoon when we were implementing an involved piece of code that only worked on a single image thumbnail and only on the iPad, and I just realized that if I spent time to understand what I was doing I would never get to the *really* cool stuff — Core Data and touch gestures — so I just started typing. Type type type. I implemented the thing, realized I might need to look back at this someday, and moved on.

At points during the day I could hear the instructor talking but couldn’t focus. Maybe it was just an off day for me; but I think my head is so chock full of new iPhone programming knowledge that it needed a bit of time to process it all.

I’m going to bed now to give myself the best chance of recovering and hitting the ground strong tomorrow. I’m still keeping up with the class, but I don’t feel the sense of mastery that I felt yesterday (and yes, I realize that mastery is a good way away — but I was putting all the pieces together yesterday).

Thursday

Back on track today. We went at a slower pace, I absorbed nearly everything we covered, and I was able to implement some pretty cool apps, especially one that allows drawing. I now have the skeleton of something I actually want to implement when I get home. Exciting!

Class was fun but I can feel the pace winding down. I’ll miss my fellow classmates but have enjoyed the opportunity to spend a week with other nerds doing one of my favorite things on Earth — learning.

I’d love to be back for the advanced course in November, but we’ll see how the year goes. Will I use these skills in the next six months to build apps? Will I push through the frustration when I can’t make something work, and figure out how to persevere, work through the syntax and search the documentation (and Stack Overflow) to find solutions?

We’ll see. More tomorrow — and the next day, I hope.

I’m ready to go home but also not ready. I did better in this class than I expected when I walked in the door. I want to put my new skills to good use and produce apps that are productive for users and for me.

I’m a Big Nerd.

Friday

Back home. We had class until 12:30, then lunch and then quickly piled into the shuttle back to the airport. I spent a few hours waiting for my flight there and then got home around 9:30.

I expected to feel mentally drained and tired, but I feel mentally turned on instead. This is awesome. It says to me that I did the right thing, and I love feeling this way. I’m going to keep working on the programming at home, and see what I can struggle through and make in terms of apps. I feel like the BNR class gave me the tools I need to keep learning on my own, and to work out problems when I run into them, because I’m starting to understand the underlying patterns and logic of programming.

Starting to understand. That’s key. There’s a lot more work to do — but I think I’ve got a running start. Now I just need to keep going.

DefCon Notes from a Patio

I found a note I wrote at DefCon in 2006. It’s on Mandalay Bay stationery (yes, because I had no idea where the Riviera was, I stayed at the Mandalay Bay. The upside was that I got to explore the entire Las Vegas Strip).

With HOPE X this weekend, it seems time-out-of-time timely, so I’m sharing some of what I wrote on that paper:

I’m sitting outside on a sun-heated patio, hoping I wore enough sunscreen. I’m at a self-imposed break in the conference action and exhausted, but not ready to give in and go back to the hotel. I’m loving every minute of this. Here there are people who are questioners, who rarely take anything at face value and aren’t here just because work requires them to be here. They all have spent considerable time and effort to be here and learn.

Las Vegas is a facade. I knew this, but it’s different to be here. I’m seeing one Las Vegas — the fake one — but there are four or five different other ones, I think. I want to see the Vegas where people really live, the one where, I’m told, fewer people than anywhere else go to college. If I were 18 and could make reasonable money as a dealer in a casino or unreasonable money as a dancer, I wouldn’t want to go to college either. When I was 28, I might feel differently, but it would be difficult to start over. That’s what I imagine, though I don’t know.

Vegas is lights and lights and fake shoes and gambling and trams and great bathrooms. Vegas is limbo. Vegas is hope. Vegas is faith, Vegas is a soul, in black on neon.

Now I’m late for HOPE X. Back to Manhattan to see what talks I can catch. And stay far away from nerf darts.

Quebec City as a (Sort-of) Solo Traveller

I spent the past week in Quebec City, now one of my favorite North American cities.

Old Quebec (Vieux Quebec) is a walled city with buildings from the 1600s. A great benefit of this architecture is that a car isn’t necessary. I traveled from New York City on Amtrak, switching to VIA Rail in Montreal.

Upon arrival in Quebec City in late afternoon, cabs were waiting at the train station, and it was a quick trip and a reasonable fare (about CAN$8) to B&B de la Fontaine.

B&B de la Fontaine

The owner wasn’t there when I arrived, but her instructions were clear and I easily accessed the lobby and checked in to my room.

It was beautiful! Wood floors, high ceiling, stone fireplace with exposed-brick wall, a comfortable queen-size bed, artwork, a small refrigerator, table and chairs, wardrobe, and work desk. My bathroom was small but functional, with enough space to move around in and a beautiful blue-and-gold mosaic tile design. Plants decorated the ledge atop the bathroom, and a fan spun lazily (there was also AC). Because my room was on the first floor, I drew the drapes, which were heavy and sufficient to block out any light or street views.

B&B de la Fontaine - Quebec City

After getting settled, I wandered around the old city. The location of the B&B was terrific, one block away from a park behind the Chateau Frontenac, away from noise but central to old Quebec and a short walk to the Lower Town stairway. The owner, Victoria, served a full homemade breakfast every morning in the dining room, which was included in the price. On various days, breakfast included eggs, pancakes, french toast, multigrain breads, jam, berries and other fruits, cakes, juice, tea and coffee.

This helped me save money because I basically ate one large meal out per day, plus a late-day snack.

Quebec City: No Car Required

I didn’t have a car, although my parents visited by car for a few days and stayed at a different B&B (thus the “sort-of” qualifier in this post title!). While they were in town, we visited Ile d’Orleans, which requires either a bike or car. (If you bike, I recommend spending an entire day at least. There are also plenty of guest houses on the island.)

Other than that brief trip to Ile d’Orleans, I walked. And I discovered that Quebec City is made for walking — if you have comfortable shoes. With hills, cobblestone streets and stone-paved sidewalks, stiletto heels are not a good idea. I wore low wedge heels, and I was fine.

Quebec City cobblestones

Best of Quebec City

Here are some great treasures I discovered:

The small park behind the Chateau Frontenac: Beautiful, quiet, an escape from the tourist buzz in front of the hotel.

Quebec City Park behind Chateau Frontenac

Lower Town: Turn left instead of right at the bottom of the first set of stairs, and you’ll explore a less-trafficked, more local part of the city, with restaurants, antique shops and art galleries.

Le Lapin Saute: Right in the middle of a touristic street in Lower Town (turn right at the bottom of the first set of stairs) is this brilliant restaurant that serves rabbit as its specialty. I ordered rabbit liver-and-kidney salad and onion soup with local Quebec cheese, and also sampled rabbit rillettes (pulled rabbit pate) and rabbit liver and kidneys sauteed with onions and served with vegetables and potatoes. Everything I tried was amazing, five-star quality, and the setting is beautiful, with outdoor tables and chairs next to a wooded square with flower beds. This was the best meal I ate in Quebec City and possibly all year.

Erico: The best chocolates I found in the city. The shop is on Rue St-Jean, which stretches from Old Quebec out to a more commercial and then residential neighborhood. It’s about a 15- to 20-minute walk from Old Quebec, so don’t get caught in the rain like I did! Their pistachio chocolates are sublime. They also serve different types of hot chocolate and gelato that can be dipped in chocolate.

La Carotte Joyeuse: A store featuring local and organic foods. Excellent if you like to eat healthy and have a refrigerator, and if you’re on a budget that limits restaurant meals. It’s a few doors away from Erico. I bought food here for the train trip back to New York.

Paillard: Budget-minded bakery cafe on Rue St.-Jean in Old Quebec where you can get a reasonable, delicious lunch and dessert.

Tournebroche near the Hotel de Vieux Quebec on Rue St-Jean in Old Quebec: This restaurant specializes in local, organic food. I had a cheese plate (good but not spectacular) and one of the best salads I ever ate, with mesclun, beets, tomatoes and vinaigrette, topped with ricotta and some kind of fruit paste. It’s weird to be recommending a salad, but I am.

Quebec Summer Music Festival

I was lucky to be in Quebec during the annual Summer Music Festival (Festival d’ete de Quebec). I purchased a festival pass for US$72, which allowed entry to any event on any day, and saw several great shows ranging from Bonobo to the John Pizzarelli Quartet. It was a perfect opportunity to let my right brain soak in abstract sounds and neon lights after a month of left-brain, programming-focused thinking. I left feeling refreshed, inspired and fired-up for the summer of hard work ahead of me back in New York (more on that later).

On Safety

I found Quebec City very safe, although as in any place, I tried to be reasonably smart. At night, I stayed on streets where there were other people, I looked around before entering the B&B, and I didn’t get drunk at the music festival or stumble home at 3am. I made sure my cell phone was always charged.

On Solitude

I will say it felt weird to be travelling out of the country by myself, even for a few days after my parents left. I’ve travelled alone in the U.S. quite a bit, but always with others beyond its borders. This was an experiment.

I found I enjoyed the days spent alone differently and more intensely, wandering through neighborhoods, discovering restaurants and stores, and enjoying the flow of people in their own worlds. At breakfast, staying alone had huge perks because I met all the other B&B guests and the wonderful owner. Our conversations ranged from, “Where are you from?” to restaurant recommendations to a comparison of public-health issues to the prisoner’s dilemma in economics. I loved it.

A Friendly Place

Lastly, my experience was that the people in Quebec City are among the friendliest I’ve met anywhere. I don’t speak French. I can say, “Bonjour,” quite well, and “Merci,” and “Ou sont les toilettes?” That’s about it. I did my best, smiling and greeting people with my limited French and then switching to English.

Unlike in Paris, I was not shunned. Universally, every single Quebecois I spoke with was kind, friendly and welcoming, willing to share information about the city, its history, and themselves. At this point I would like to learn French, just to speak this beautiful, descriptive language that surrounded me as I wandered the streets.

I love Quebec City and plan to be back. I hope this post helps those considering it as a solo travel destination to feel comfortable with the idea and get a head-start on finding some great places.

Traveling in My Own City Is Weird and Awesome

Datelog: July 1, 10:30pm
(Posted later because my VPN doesn’t work on the hotel Wi-Fi)

I can’t explain how weird it is to be sitting in a hotel room in my own city.

I’m in New York, at a Sheraton in Soho, paying very little for a room before an early train to Quebec tomorrow morning.

I’ve lived in New York for the past seven years.

My lease expired at the end of March, and I stayed with short-term roommates for two months while finishing work at my old job. One month in Chelsea, and one month in Boerum Hill in Brooklyn.

I loved that experience, because I was essentially traveling in my own city. I explored new neighborhoods. I had only three bags of stuff, so “moving” meant getting on the subway. I got to have pets without the expense and the hassle. I didn’t do much housework.

But I still lived in the city. I shopped for food and prepared it in a kitchen and went to work and then didn’t go to work and occasionally did laundry.

Now I’m in between a trip to upstate NY and a trip to Canada, staying here because it would be too annoying to stay with someone and then have to leave at 6:30 a.m. Hotels are designed for that.

It still feels like my city.

I bought food at my favorite local chain, Le Pain Quotidien, and brought it back to my room, then ordered a pot of chamomile tea from room service.

I’m typing at a work desk and sleeping in a hotel bed. I feel like I’m on a business trip, but when I step out the door, I feel at home.

It’s weird and fun and freeing all at once. But mostly weird.

Why I Travel Now, Not Someday

I always wanted to see the world.

Someday, I whispered to soothe my mind. Someday.

I was on a good career track. I kept getting promoted. I couldn’t leave now. I saw friends taking leaps and taking trips and continued to get up and get on the subway and travel downtown.

My Starbucks consumption went up. Tea is soothing.

Someday.

I watched oil prices spike in 2008, fall in 2009, settle back to somewhere in the middle, but higher than before, like a tide that slowly creeps in until you’re standing knee-deep, surrounded.

Someday.

New York City flooded after Hurricane Sandy. Rats washed away when the subways filled with water. They crept back, after a few months. Everything returned to normal. I paid for my studio and got promoted again.

Someday.

Airline tickets cost more than they did 10 years ago. $250 for L.A.-to-Newark in 2001. $670 for Newark-to-SF last month. Frequent-flyer mile devaluation is taking off.

Someday became today in May.

Because I want to travel. And there are still empty seats on planes and tickets for anyone with miles or $600.

If I wait to retire, 25 years will pass by. 30 years. If plane tickets cost $10,000 or 1,000,000 frequent-flyer miles, if there are fewer flights per day, if retirement is at age 70, if I’m too sick or didn’t make it to retirement or became a caretaker, wishes won’t take me there.

I’ve seen too many people never get their Someday. They play by the rules but can’t control all the factors, random or not, that determine life’s course.

So someday is today. Maybe there’ll be more of it next year, next decade, and in 30 years. Which would be wonderful. There could be new ways of getting around the planet, ample opportunity and mobility, great breakthroughs.

But there are no givens.

So I travel now. I travel light, and I learn as I go, and I’ll do my best to carry something useful from this experience into whatever I do next.

Don’t wait. Whatever your someday is, take steps to make it real, starting today.

Day 8: Leaving Home Again, New Goals

I left Brooklyn yesterday. Took my three bags to the subway, got on the A train, sat down while stations whisked past. I struggled with my bags, impractical and heavy, and realized: Three bags is still too many. Even after a giant clear-out, my stuff still drags on me. Lighter is better, in all things.

I thought about how easy it was to leave New York, after six years of living here. I didn’t feel any ties, no, “I’m moving now” signs flashed in my head. Just the same subway stations brushing past as blurs. I’ll be back in a few weeks, then gone, then back. I won’t be buying souvenirs while traveling, since I have no stuff. Instead I’ll bring back experiences, new motivation, and refined goals.

Tomorrow I fly to San Francisco. I’m bringing one small backpack and a shoulder bag, which should get me through the week. I don’t think I could travel so light for a month-long stay, but I do see the appeal of switching to a much smaller rolling suitcase. The one I have now is a carry-on that always seems an inch too large for the aisle on the plane. And I think I should have two bags, not three — even for longer stays.

Major goals for this week are: 1.) Network and meet new and old friends; 2.) Work on my flashcard app at least a little; and 3.) Have fun and learn new things!

Day 7: Goals Accomplished

I registered for the NASM personal trainer test. I read 100 pages of the NASM book (200 down, 300 to go). I worked on my flashcard app and struggled — am still struggling* — with UICollectionViews. I blogged four times and drafted a post for Medium.

I also established a Twitter account for this blog, ate somewhat better, slept a little more, spent time with family, met with a few former colleagues, finished reading Effective Objective-C 2.0, finished reading Apple’s Mobile Human Interface Guidelines, and booked a vacation stay in Italy.

Somehow, amid all of this, several people told me I look more relaxed.

I’m happy to hear it.

I do feel relaxed, in a productive-flow way. When I’m in the zone, working on something I enjoy, I’m happiest. That’s why it’s vital for me to stay productive even when I’m ostensibly relaxing and traveling. I’m always finding my way to what’s next.

* UICollectionViews are basically places that hold content within an iPhone or iPad app screen. They can be small or large, and you can scroll through the content in them and choose one or more items. The difficulty for me is in correctly setting up sizing and scrolling, although I’m making progress.