Choosing Chicago.

by Val Bromann  :::  12-15-2014  :::  Comments (2)

Pretty autumn day on my first day back at work.

Going back to work on my first day.

 

It’s been over a month since I left Athens. Stopped traveling. It’s been over a month since I came back home to Chicago, since I started back at my new old job.

And it’s been over three years since I’ve been back in Chicago and working “permanently.”

The transition back into work has been easy. Too easy. I went back to a position I held for five years, so I already knew it inside and out. There was no grace period, no training period, no adjustment period, I was just thrown in. So much so that no one even bothered to re-teach me how to use the phones or tell me a password to get into my voicemail. They just assumed I knew everything.

Work has been busy. Last week I sent out 34 marketing emails. Trust me, that is a lot. I work every day past 6. Work through lunch most days. Check into my email even when I’m out of my office.

But, you know what? I kind of love it.

 

Civic Opera House

 

Yes, some days I miss the carefree days of having no other responsibilities outside of drinking a bucket of rum and coke on a Thai island. Yes there are days I wish I was back learning salsa in Colombia. I even miss those days I spent struggling through India.

But I love my job and I care about my company. And I love sitting at my desk every day laughing too hard with my coworkers in my cubicle group. I like the sense of accomplishment I feel daily. I like feeling like I’m being productive.

Out of work, though, it’s another story.

After spending 24 hours in transit, 24 hours awake, I arrived home from Athens at 6pm on a Monday, ordered takeout Chinese, and then passed out around 9. I woke up cheery and bright the next morning and set off for work, ready to take on the world. And that first day I felt great, alive, prepared.

 

Chinese takeout.

Chinese takeout: my first meal back home.

 

And then I just crashed and haven’t been able to dig myself up again.

I never really gave myself time to adjust and now all I want to do after work is come home, lock myself in my room, and binge watch Netflix. In the last month and a half I’ve watched several seasons of several bad reality shows. I finally watched the last season of How I Met Your Mother (and all I can say is what the fuck?). I watched the first two seasons plus of Breaking Bad before I had to step away because it was making me too nervous. I watched the first three seasons of New Girl and bawled like a girl the whole time.

And since I watch Netflix on my laptop I can’t even pretend that I’m working while watching it. So my outside responsibilities, and my blog, have been suffering. A lot. (If you noticed, I only posted one post last month. One. That’s never happened before.)

I didn’t feel any “reverse culture shock” coming home. The hardest part was remembering that I could flush my toilet paper, as I’d become accustomed to throwing it in the trash bin. But I spend so much time bouncing around and have spent so much time coming and going from Chicago that nothing feels different anymore. It all just is. But I have been tired and overwhelmed.

I have 12-days of Christmas vacation coming up which I hope to use to finish some neglected freelance work, catch up on my blog, catch up on life, and look for an apartment.

Though I’ll probably just binge-watch Gilmore Girls.

 

 

I pretty much just live in a pile of laundry.

This is how I live right now: in a pile of laundry.
 

At the opera.

At the opera.

Work perk: free opera.

 

My new coat.

It started snowing (snowing!) soon after I got home. So my choice was to either quit my job and fly back to Thailand or buy a new winter coat. I settled on the coat.

 

Heather and Jeremy.

These two got married. But more on that later.

 

Heather's bachelorette party.

Heather's bachelorette party.

Heather's bachelorette party.

Before those two got married, there was a bachelorette party that involved whirleyball and bowling.

 

Improv.

I watch a lot of improv. Because if I didn’t I would never see my friend Mat.

 

Indian buffet.

All I crave all the time is Indian food.

 

Work Pot Luck.

My department at work is actually a lot of fun and we do a lot together. Like have pot lucks.

 

Marketing department outing to Headquarters.

Marketing department outing to Headquarters.

Marketing department outing to Headquarters.

Marketing department outing to Headquarters.

And go out to Headquarters Beercade to play video games and eat pizza.

 

Work Cookie Exchange.

Work Cookie Exchange.

And have a holiday cookie exchange.

 

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving happened. No one wants to cook Thanksgiving dinner but me. And I don’t have an apartment to host it in or a car to shop and transport. So we went to a buffet. And I ate too much everything. And my nephews ate too much chocolate fountain marshmallows.


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How do you spend your last week as a travel blogger? At a travel blogging conference, obviously.

by Val Bromann  :::  12-13-2014  :::  Comments (2)

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

 

Last year I went to TBEX Dublin and left with more inspiration, more motivation, to take my blog where I wanted it to go than I had ever had before.

And then my laptop got stolen a week later and I couldn’t do anything for nearly two months.

This year I went to TBEX Athens and left with more inspiration, more motivation, to take my blog where I wanted it to go than I had ever had before.

And then I came home a few days later and threw myself into jet lag and my new old job.

TBEX, a travel blogging conference held twice (soon to be thrice) a year, was my last stop before heading home to go back to work full time. I joked on how silly it was that I was spending my last week as a travel blogger at a travel blogging conference. And then I joked again that I was kidding: I was never a travel blogger to begin with.

I sometimes wonder why I ever have any desire to go to TBEX, to any travel blogging conference. This was my third one: Vancouver many moons ago, Dublin last year, and now Athens. On all accounts, I shouldn’t want to go. I’ve never considered this a travel blog. Networking scares me. I hate bloggers who are only concerned with making money and scoring free travel*. I still have trouble thinking that blogging could or should ever be a business. Plus the more conferences you go to, the more you just hear same old regurgitated information, time and time again.

But I love going to TBEX if, for no other reason, because it’s like a high school reunion full of people I actually want to see. There are those bloggers I met somewhere on the road. There are those bloggers I met somewhere online. There are those bloggers who I met the year before at the last conference. There are those people who are now some of my best friends who I only get a chance to see once, maybe twice a year.

And then there are those new friends. Like Katrinka. Like Emma. Who I happened, last-minute, to end up in an apartment rental with. Who I ended up in many conversations with about our blogs and what we hope for our futures. Who ended up being my travel blogging soul mates.

And then there were the parties. And the after parties. Where I stay up drinking, dancing, mingling, until way too late in the morning.

And then, I suppose, there was the conference itself. Where, mixed in with some of those regurgitated sessions, were ones so brilliantly inspiring. Sessions on building your brand (something that will be my focus in 2015), social media, freelancing.

I left Athens, like I leave each conference, knowing I’ve found my best colleagues, friends, inspired to focus on creating better content, motivated to do what I need to do.

And so, as I settle back home having no desire to write (I promise that will stop soon. OK, I hope that stops soon). As I refocus my blog. As I refocus my life. I’ll still probably go again next year. And the next. (Assuming I can find some time off of work.) To see my friends. To get inspired. To get motivated all over again.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

Aperol at a pre-conference party.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

The spread at the Travel Massive event. There were figs. I chose to eat them.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

After party.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

Wine at the opening night party.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

I may have eaten three of these.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

The mayor of Athens.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

I told the guy I had a blog about figs so he gave me a free fig bar.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

Meta.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

The bartender at the Expedia party would not give me a bottle of tequila.

TBEX Athens - Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Greece

Closing keynote. Note: I may be kind of in love with Robert Reid.

 

*I don’t mean all y’all.


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A day in Athens. Or maybe seven.

by Val Bromann  :::  12-01-2014  :::  Comments (6)

Make mousaka not war Athens, Greece

Make Mousaka not war.

 

Athens, Greece, is one of those cities, like Santiago, where most people only spend a night, maybe two, or skip it altogether, and say it’s not worth going. They say it’s just another big city, they say it’s boring or dangerous or lame. It’s one of those cities people write off.

I had a week to spend in Athens and everyone asked why I was going. And then everyone asked if I was going to the islands.

For a conference. And no.

I had a week to spend in Athens. But, really, I only had a day or two. Most of my time was spent at the conference, TBEX, travel blog exchange, where, by day, I listened to sessions on blogging and, by night, went to the hosted parties. My last day was spent exhausted, physically and mentally. So much so that all I did was meet a friend for lunch and meet another for dinner. My first day didn’t count, I arrived late, went immediately to a conference-related party. And my third day didn’t count as I spent most of the afternoon in a Greek emergency room. Not for me. Long story.

So, despite being in Athens for a week, I only really had a day. One day. And in that day I didn’t leave the area around my apartment and the Acropolis.

There’s more to Athens than that, I know. And I hope some day I get to go back and spend more time exploring the different neighborhoods.

But I enjoyed my day, or seven, in my little corner of Athens.

I enjoyed going to sleep, and waking up, in the nicest bed I’ve slept in in a long time, thanks to the FlipKey apartment I was sharing with three friends.

It’s been no secret that I’d been tiring of hostels. So having an apartment, someplace clean, someplace quiet, conveniently located near the metro and most of the places I wanted to go, was perfect.

We could get to the conference easily. I could walk to many of the tourist attractions easily. We had a fridge to keep leftover souvlaki in, for late night snacking. I had a bedroom that wasn’t shared with 10 strangers. And a bathroom I wasn’t afraid to shower in.

It was a much needed respite.

Flipkey apartment in Athens, Greece

Flipkey apartment in Athens, Greece

 

I enjoyed visiting the Acropolis, and the Parthenon. Probably the most iconic archeology of Greece.

Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Acropolis in Athens, Greece

…even if it actually looked like this:

Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Acropolis in Athens, Greece

 

I enjoyed eating. All too much. A mix of rich sauces and spreads and cheeses with plates of vegetables or meats. Souvlaki, roasted eggplant, gyro. And, of course, Loukoumades, Greek doughnuts, covered in a mixture of sweet, thick, chocolate sauces, that we devoured while walking home from a bar one night.

Souvlaki in Athens, Greece

Eggplant in Athens, Greece

Stuffed peppers in Athens, Greece

Pork Gyro in Athens, Greece

Spicy cheese in Athens, Greece

Donuts in Athens, Greece

 

I enjoyed the dogs, who wandered the streets, accompanying me as I crossed the street, who made themselves at home wherever they were.

dogs in Athens, Greece

 

I might have enjoyed the shopping of Ermou Street, full of modern clothing shops, right outside my apartment door, if I hadn’t already stocked up with conference-appropriate clothes in Madrid. I did enjoy the shopping on Pandrossou Street, full of souvenir shops, where I picked up a small owl, representing the goddess Athena, to add to my collection.

Ermou street Shopping in Athens, Greece

Pandrossou Street shopping in Athens, Greece

 

And I enjoyed going out to drink at the many amazing bars. Like Six Dogs (where I ordered a cocktail made from fig infused vodka because I now feel I need to get anything fig), like Drunk Sinatra, like the bar directly across from Drunk Sinatra where we danced all night and the one down the street that had the coolest. bathroom. ever. And wherever it was we ended up, on the last night of the travel blogging conference, where I spent way too much money on a ridiculous cocktail that involved chocolate and cotton candy that I saw some women at the bar drinking.

Bars in Athens, Greece

Bars in Athens, Greece

Bars in Athens, Greece

Bars in Athens, Greece

 

Hopefully, next time, I’ll get to enjoy more of Athens, have more than just a day out of seven.

 
 

I had complimentary accommodation in Athens thanks to FlipKey, a vacation rental marketplace. All views are my own.

 
 


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Could I live in Madrid?

by Val Bromann  :::  11-10-2014  :::  Comments (6)

Madrid, Spain

In my travel plan, that one I made in June and almost immediately abandoned, I had thought to return to Spain after three months in South America.

I wanted to spend some time there. At least a month, hopefully three, longer if that damned visa didn’t exist.

I first went to Spain in 2011, a month into what turned into my 15-month, or three year, depending on how you look at it, ’round the world trip. Spain was a turning point.

In Spain I finally started to get the hang of traveling. In Spain I started thinking that I never wanted to stop traveling. In Spain I allowed myself to have random sex. In Spain I finally started letting go.

Spain was a turning point.

I always imagined that I would go back to someday, get an apartment for a few months, study Spanish, learn Flamenco, eat all the tapas, drink all the wine.

Of course, life happened, and I ended up accepting a job back home in Chicago instead.

But I still wanted to return to Spain before I “finished” traveling.

So, instead of going for three months, instead of renting an apartment, instead of studying flamenco and Spanish, I took my friend Christina up for her offer to let me stay at her place in Madrid for a week. And in that week I did almost nothing.

But Madrid was a good enough place to do so.

I wandered the streets. I ate. I shopped. I slept way too much because I just couldn’t acclimate myself to the time change. I got caught up on my blog.

It was a different feeling than the last time I was in Madrid. Because the last time I was in Madrid it was in the blistering heat of August. And the Pope was in town, attracting millions of followers.

This time, with temperate weather, without the Pope, I loved Madrid even more. I felt like I was just living while there. I didn’t feel like I was traveling.

Part of me wished I was staying. Part of me wished I could stick to my plan of living in Madrid, of living somewhere in Spain.

But then the weekend came along and, in traditional Spanish style, we went out for tapas at 9 and then went out, staying at the bars until 4am before stumbling to a nightclub. I left at 7am: the rest of my friends continued until 4pm the next day.

4pm.

Walking home from a club, alone, beyond tired, at 7 am, trying to navigate back to the apartment, I thought, “I could never live in Spain.”

 

p.s. I only took photos of food in Madrid…

Prawn pasta in Madrid, Spain

Seafood on toast in Madrid, Spain

Tapas in Madrid, Spain

Chocolate con churros in Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

BBQ Pork Sticks in Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain


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Santiago is just another big city.

by Val Bromann  :::  10-22-2014  :::  Comments (3)

 in Santiago, Chile

“Santiago is just another big city.”

That’s what everyone would tell me when they said they went for just a night or two before moving on or skipped it altogether. “It’s just another big city,” they’d say. “It’s boring,” they’d say.

But I had already decided that Santiago would be where I’d spend my last ten days in Chile, in South America. I was nervous. People made me nervous. Everyone had me thinking that I was making the wrong choice. Maybe I should have decided to spend more time in Valle de Elqui. Maybe I should have decided to go down south. Or cut over to Argentina.

But I stuck with my plan figuring that, if nothing else, I could spend my last week relaxing in bed with Netflix, going on day tours, or working.

When I got to Santiago, with ten days ahead of me I realized that yes, Santiago is just another big city…

 

Santiago is just another big city with markets.

Lots of markets. Markets full of fresh fish and meat and fruits and vegetables. Markets where you could stop at a restaurant for lunch or pick up something to make later, for dinner.

Central Market Fish market in Santiago, Chile

Central Market fish market in Santiago, Chile

Meat market in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city where those who have passed are remembered.

Where a wife might leave her husband beer. Where a family might celebrate a child’s birthday, year after year, even if that child only lived a few days.

Cemetery in Santiago, Chile

Cemetery in Santiago, Chile

Cemetery in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city that hosts Lollapalooza.

Because we all know cities that host Lollapalooza are awful. Just awful.

 

Santiago is just another big city with a Plaza de Armas.

I don’t remember where I was or who I was with, but someone somewhere on this trip said at some point, “it’s not a city in South America without a Plaza de Armas.” And that is a pretty true statement.

Of course, I’m only guessing here that Santiago has a nice one. Because it was under construction. Along with the cathedral.

Plaza de Armas in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city with really good food.

One of the best things about Chile is that you’re never really that far from the coast. So seafood is everywhere and some of their best dishes revolve around seafood. And while most of the street food consisted of massive hot dogs topped with everything, the sopaipillas, fried pumpkin pastries topped with spicy salsa, are delicious snacks.

Ceviche in Santiago, Chile
Ceviche. Because, ceviche.

Pastel de Jaibas - crab casserole - in Santiago, Chile
Pastel de Jaibas — crab casserole.

Caldillo De Congrio - eel soup in Santiago, Chile
Caldillo De Congrio — eel soup.

Sushi in Santiago, Chile
Sushi. Which I know is not Chilean. But it’s all I’ve been craving lately. And, hello, fresh seafood.

Sopapilla in Santiago, Chile
Sopapilla topped with spicy salsa.

 

Santiago is just another big city where the national drink contains pineapple ice cream.

The Terremoto, so named because of Chile’s tendancy towards earthquakes, is a drink made of a white wine, grenadine, sometimes pisco, and a scoop of pineapple ice-cream. And it will fuck you up. It will fuck you up…

Terremotos in Santiago, Chile

Terremotos in Santiago, Chile

Terremotos in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city with a lot of street art.

Maybe not as much as nearby Valparaiso. But enough.

Street art in Santiago, Chile

Street art in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city filled with people with pink or purple or blue hair.

Not everyone. But I saw a lot of people with weird hair colors. And people with weird hair colors are awesome, right?

 

Santiago is just another big city where you can visit Paris and London in an afternoon.

At least on streets named after Paris and London…

London Street in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city where you can easily take a wine tour.

There are plenty to choose from. But please note: a wine tour is not fun the day after you’ve had a couple of those terremotos…

Concha y Toro wine tour in Santiago, Chile

Concha y Toro wine tour in Santiago, Chile

Concha y Toro wine tour in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city where you can climb to the top of two hills.

There’s Santa Lucía Hill…
Santa Lucía Hill in Santiago, Chile

Santa Lucía Hill in Santiago, Chile

…and San Cristóbal Hill.

San Cristóbal Hill in Santiago, Chile

San Cristóbal Hill in Santiago, Chile

San Cristóbal Hill in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city where people stop you on the street and ask you to take their photo.

I could be all Humans of Santiago. Except my Spanish isn’t good enough to ask people what their saddest moment is.

Humans of Santiago, Chile

Humans of Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city where you can go salsa dancing.

And salsa dancing is the best.

 in Santiago, Chile

 in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city where they block of the streets on Sunday mornings.

So cyclists can take over.

Blocked off streets for cyclists in Santiago, Chile

 

Santiago is just another big city with a rich, interesting, sometimes horrifying recent history.

On September 11, 1973, a coup d’état in Santiago left president Salvador Allende Gossens dead (of apparent, and contested, suicide), leading way for Army General Augusto Pinochet to take over. His dictatorship lasted for many years until a plebiscite in 1988, in which citizens could vote “yes” to allowing him another term or “no” for him to be rejected. The “no” vote won with 56% of the vote, and Chile was free to find a new president.

I’d heard the story many times over my days in Santiago. But it wasn’t until I was sitting in the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago’s Human Rights Museum, watching a video of their 1988 national election that it hit me how recent this all was. The political commercials that played on repeat were very much 80s, very much on television, and very much in color. Something about that triggered something in me. Like you’re so used to reading things in text books, seeing all these old photos in black and white. But seeing those commercials made it all seem so recent, just like seeing videos of victims of the dictatorship’s detention centers speak out made it all too real.

 in Santiago, Chile

 in Santiago, Chile

 

If I had arrived in Santiago first I would have probably stuck to my original plan to stay somewhere for three months. Unfortunately, I arrived there last, just ten days before my flight out of South America. It was a place so many people skipped and so many people didn’t like. It was, maybe, just another big city. But it was a city I could see myself in.

I cried walking through a park my last night. Because there are so many places I see myself living. I want to live in Santiago. I want to live in New York. I want to study salsa in Cali. Flamenco in Spain. Tango in Argentina. I want to go back to Chiang Mai. I want to go to Africa, Australia, Japan. I cried because I want to fall in love. I want to get married. But I fear I will never find a man who wants the same things in life that I want. Because I want too many things. Because I want everything. Because I don’t know what I want. I cried because my life is about to take a drastic turn. And while I’m still not sure if it’s what I want. I know it’s what I need. And so, as I left South America I just had to keep reminding myself of my mantra:

I can have it all. Just not all at once. Just not all right now.

 

 


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