Category Archives: Travel

A South Carolinian Debutante Ball

At the invitation of a friend of mine, I traveled to South Carolina to attend a debutante ball, a grand tradition in which young women are presented in society. Because I had only recently learned about this tradition, I jumped at the chance to experience this unique coming-of-age celebration.

South Carolina Debutante BallDonning a floor-length gown and opera-length, white gloves, I stood at the front of the crowd and marveled at the cherub-like debutantes entering the ballroom. With their anachronistic white dresses, bouquet of red roses, delicately placed hands, and pleasant smiles, the debutantes were escorted by their fathers to the center of the floor to perform a grand curtsy under the chandelier.

South Carolina Debutante BallThey were then handed off to their escort and shuffled across the floor once more.

South Carolina Debutante BallFor the finale, the fathers and daughters danced a waltz.

South Carolina Debutante BallThen the real party began with party-goers dancing the Carolina Shag and contemporary dance styles.

Carolina Shag

South Carolina Debutante BallAlthough the presentation was perfectly executed and the party was fun, I had a difficult time wrapping my head around the rationale behind this antiquated event in today’s society. I also couldn’t imagine how these young women were coping with the varied messages the ball conveyed as well as the impossible expectations that were set upon them. I found myself questioning the entire event – Why does this tradition continue today? What purpose does it serve? Is there a more meaningful way to spend an evening? Is there a better way to showcase the strengths and talents of young women?

South Carolina Debutante BallAll in all, the debutante ball was an intriguing cultural experience that somehow transcended time and provided me with some additional perspective.

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My day in Wallace, Idaho

Road TripThis summer, I spent a week traveling across the northwestern part of the United States. My brother, his fiancée, and I rented a car and drove from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Occidental, California, stopping along the way in Grand Teton National Park; Yellowstone National Park; Butte, Montana; Anaconda, Montana; Wallace, Idaho; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Walla Walla, Washington; and Portland, Oregon. Of all those amazing and distinctly unique places, our favorite was Wallace, Idaho.

IdahoOur journey in Wallace began with a bike tour on the Hiawatha Trail. We crossed the border from Montana into Idaho, picked up our mountain bikes, hitched them to the back of our Volkswagon, Passat, and then drove back over the border into Montana. We parked at the entrance to the trail, tested our brakes, flashlights, and then entered into the tunnel. It was absolutely pitch black, cold, damp, windy, and with no sign of when it would end. Pedaling slowly and clutching the handlebars with my frozen hands, I finally emerged from the tunnel two miles later, grateful to see the sun.

Hiawatha TrailThe trail then wound through the mountains on the states’ border. We rode over train trellises and through smaller tunnels, making our way 13 miles to the valley floor. After the fear of being forever lost in a tunnel or sliding down the side of the mountain wore off, I felt the exhilaration of riding through this historic trail. After an hour and a half of riding, a shuttle bus brought us back to the car and we once again crossed back into Idaho to find the town of Wallace.

Wallace IdahoThe tiny Wallace used to be a major silver mining hub located in what is known as “Silver Valley.” Now it is mostly a tourist destination.

Lola Red Light GarageWe arrived in time for happy hour, grabbing a flight of beers at Wallace Brewing. Then we had dinner at Red Light Garage – a restaurant with a unique decor and the perfect amount of charm. Lola served us an amazing meal topped off with a huckleberry shake.

Wallace Brewing CompanyLola recommended that we then go to the Wallace Brewing Company on the “outskirts” of town, just on the other side of the highway which passed overhead. We headed over there and grabbed another flight of beers as well as some huckleberry lemonade. The owner of the brewery invited us to take a look at the tanks in the back. Everyone in Wallace was so friendly.

Metals BarWe ended the night at Metals Bar where we encountered the heart of America and were presented with the most moving rendition of God Bless the USA sung on the karaoke stage in the back.

The next morning, crunched for time, we learned about three different industries in the span of two hours.

Wallace Train StationThe first business was the railroad. We visited the railroad museum located near the highway overpass. The station had to be moved 200 feet to make room for the highway. Wallace, once a center of industry and prosperity, depended on the railroad to transport goods. It was also a hub for businessmen. The main claim to fame of Wallace (aside from being featured in Dante’s Peak) is that President Teddy Roosevelt visited for one day in 1903. He came by railroad.

Bordello Museum Wallace IdahoThe second enterprise was prostitution. There was a bordello that successfully operated until 1987 when the madame got word that the state police were coming to investigate. The women fled and never returned, leaving the building in exactly the state they had left it. It remains in that state today.

Maria Kucinski Silver MineThe third industry was mining. We hopped on a trolley that took us to a nearby silver mine located in the mountains. A former miner took us into the mine showing us the quartz veins that indicate silver, the tools, the methods, and the way of life for a miner. We learned that the science of mining and the physical demands were not for the weak of heart or mind.

Wallace accordion paradeIn addition to these planned excursions, we also happened upon an accordion parade. It was the icing on the cake of our stay in Wallace.

Wallace IdahoAll in all, Wallace was a beautiful and quaint town full of history and culture. I definitely recommend visiting. Tell them Lola sent you.

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My escape to the American Southwest

I flew out to Arizona for my first time and I fell in love.

Route 8The purpose of my trip was to see Alois Kronschlaeger’s awe-inspiring Untitled (Basin and Range) at MOCA Tucson. His installation, his largest and most ambitious to-date, was stunning. It was over a year in the making, took seven weeks to install with a crew of people, and one night to celebrate his accomplishment.

Alois Kronschlaeger Maria KucinskiI also ventured into the desert. I took in the landscape and the culture.

Tucson Arizona

Tucson ArizonaAt dawn, I bid adieu to Tucson and headed to Yuma, Arizona in a red convertible Chevy Camaro. I got the grand tour of Yuma by the city’s own spokesperson, seeing the Colorado River and the Ocean to Ocean Highway.

Martha GuzmanI hopped back in my Camaro and continued my journey to San Diego. I traveled through the desert, the sand dunes, the turbines, the mountains, and finally through paradise.

View from the CamaroI drove over 400 miles to the coast, basking in the sun upon my arrival.

Maria Kucinski Red Chevrolet Camaro Convertible 2013I ate Mexican food while talking aviation with my old pal and Marine pilot.

Brad PanasitiThe next day, I traded in the Camaro for a new set of wheels, a beautiful bicycle with red rims. I rode all along Mission Beach, envisioning my life in this paradise.

Maria Kucinski Bicycle in Paradise

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How to enjoy and/or have an existential crisis in Istanbul

Sea of Marmara, Island of Buyukada, Istanbul, Turkey

Sea of Marmara, Island of Buyukada, Istanbul, Turkey

This past New Year’s I went to Istanbul, Turkey to visit my friend, Nico. My friend, Erica, also joined in on this trip. The three of us, with our individual variations on the “quarter-life crisis” (plus my horrible cough) managed to explore one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Here is a series of photographs that captures the various moods throughout my week-long trip:

Istanbul, Turkey

Four Cool Cats in Istanbul

Dancing in a Turku bar in Istanbul until 5:30am

Hagia Sophia

Turkish cuisine

Turkish crisis

Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey

How to win at backgammon in Turkey

Galata Tower and a Sea Gull

The Grand Bazaar

Maria Kucinski Istanbul

Istanbul Sunset

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Oystering on Cape Cod

Oystering on Cape Cod

Oystering season is Sundays in November and December, and lucky me, I had the opportunity to participate in a New England tradition on one of the coldest days of the year.

Bourne Shellfish AreasA friend of mine invited me to join her family in Bourne, Massachusetts for oystering. I have never been oystering, let alone shellfishing, and those fishing rods my family bought for the beach have been collecting dust for over 10 years. I have, however, spent a good chunk of my life at the beach so I was looking forward to the chance to stretch my “sea legs” and try something new.

What I didn’t know was that oystering is very similar to looking for shells. That simple? Not exactly, but fairly close.

My friends and I donned our gear – I wore wool socks with rubber boots, a down jacket, and heavy duty mittens while the pros wore waders equipped with neoprene et al. This city girl tried her best to fit in to the mostly male dominated “sport” with her manicure and Ray Bans.

Oystering BourneWe rode in the back of a pickup to the beach – the wind already causing a severe chill. It was about 35 degrees Fahrenheit with a strong and constant wind. We grabbed our tools – a regulation bucket, a rake, and a club. That was all we needed – plus a permit from the town of Bourne which came with a measuring tool with which you compare oyster size. In order to take oysters, they have to be at least 3 inches. And the shellfishing warden checks. (This is Massachusetts after all.)

Our first stop was a bit crowded and the oysters were already spare even though low tide was just upon us. After briefly conferring, it was determined that we would be going to the “secret spot.” Crossing roads, climbing jetties, traversing a reedy swamp, sliding between trees, and dodging driftwood. This path led us to the motherload of oysters.

Oystering BourneI finally saw oysters in their natural habitat and was able to pick them out of the water myself. There they sat, mixed in with the rocks, shells, snails, periwinkles, seaweed, and other things I would rather not know about, on top of the sand.

Clubbing oystersWe spent about an hour gathering enough oysters to fill our bucket. We made sure they were the right size – which takes about 3 years. My job was to club any unwanted attachments off of the oysters – an art I realized when my friend delicately yet forcefully knocked off stubborn snails with one tap. I got the hang of it eventually with my frozen hands, getting those suckers off the beautiful oysters.

This is New EnglandAfter our journey back to the road and to the house in the pickup, the fun continued. It was time to “shuck.”

With a chainmail glove on one hand and a knife in the other, you hold the oyster down while jabbing the knife into the hinge of the shell, applying pressure until the sides of the oyster bubble with water. That’s when you know you have some leverage. You angle the knife and hope the shell pops open. Once you do that, you slide the knife along the top shell, opening it up and releasing the oyster from the muscle on top. The top shell is tossed and you go under the animal on the bottom shell with the knife to detach the other muscle.

Shucking oysters

And although you feel really terrible for killing this innocent animal who was just chillen at the beach, you know that this is the way of the world and that it will taste delicious.

Shucking an oysterA touch of lemon, a drop of cocktail sauce, and down the hatch. Sweet, tangy, cool, salty, and tender. A kick to the brain after the wind had been whipping all day. Delicious.

And then, we fried them. To quote my friend who probably guzzled 8 raw oysters and about 15 fried ones, they tasted like “heaven.”

All in all, those oysters were definitely a treat worth suffering in the cold for. So glad I was able to go shellfishing with pros.

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Searching for the elusive in Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland. I recently took a little trip with my family to Reykjavik, Iceland. The country is weird. It is weird because although it’s all very nice and the people are very nice it seems like they have no real strong culture (unlike say Italians). There are only 300,000 people living in all of Iceland, 2/3rds of which live in Reykjavik and the surrounding area. The ongoing joke on the trip was that Iceland has the most [fill in the blank] per capita. We also felt like everything we saw and did reminded us of another place we had visited. That became a fun game saying that the streets reminded us of Lisbon or the climate reminded us of San Francisco.

Geo-thermal tomato farm in IcelandIcelandic food is quite varied with lamb, minke whale, puffin, shark, and tons of fish. They grow produce in greenhouses so they have fresh fruits and veggies of all kinds. We went to a geo-thermal powered greenhouse of tomatoes where they ship out 300 tons annually. That’s just under a ton of tomatoes a day!

Minke whale on the left. Puffin on the right.

Minke whale on the left. Puffin on the right.

At dinner, I tried whale – very much like a steak that is prepared on the raw side, and puffin – which is more like lamb in texture. I am glad I did it, but I feel like I should repent. The waiter who served those dishes grew up on a puffin “farm.” When asked how his family would prepare puffin, he said they would “rip off the chest” and boil it whole. Quite a vivid description…plus the fact that there were stuffed animal puffins in all the souvenir shops and the book of “50 crazy Things to Eat in Iceland” eloquently noted that puffins were, “So Cute and Tasty.” Gulp.

Gull Beer.Which reminds me of the terrible Icelandic beer called “Gull,” pronounced “Ghoulkh” meaning “rainbow” and named after the impressive three-step waterfall, “Gullfoss.”

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall.

Icelandic horse.

Icelandic horses.

The Icelandic horse is a national treasure having come over with the Vikings and never bred with any other breed. It has an extra gait specific to its breed and is fairly small.

Strokkur Geyser Iceland

Strokkur Geyser, the active geyser next to the original Geysir.

Mid-Atlantic Ridge Iceland

Between two continents. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland.

We also saw Geysir, the big, historic geyser and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the tectonic plates between North America and Europe are separated by 70 meters. From there we could also see the largest lake in Iceland. It was beautiful.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland.

One of the highlights was the Blue Lagoon – a sulfur steam bath in the middle of ancient lava. It was so cool (even if it felt a bit like a water park) knowing that it was all naturally harnessed energy. Note to self: don’t ever get your hair wet with sulfur. My hair did not bounce back to its natural softness the rest of the trip (showering and conditioner did not help as the hot water has sulfur in it too). I called it Iceland hair and heard others remarking about it at the airport. Glad to hear I was not alone and now my hair is back to normal.

Reykjavik Art Museum

Reykjavik Art Museum

We spent a full day in Reykiavik (make sure to roll the “r”) exploring the culture. We went to the Reykjavik Art Museum to see contemporary Icelandic art, the National Museum of Iceland to learn about the history, and the Culture House to soak up the history of the Sagas – essentially near-truth fables of Iceland.

Icelandic Pylsur

Icelandic Pylsur

Another Icelandic delicacy is the pylsur or hot dog. Although we had heard so much about it, we couldn’t find those elusive dogs anywhere. When we finally did, I don’t know what kinds of sauces were on mine but it was disgusting. More disgusting than a Colombian Dogger with piña sauce.

Moonrise in Reykjavik at 11pm

Moonrise in Reykjavik at 11pm.

Did I mention that the days lasted 20 hours or so? We arrived at 11:30pm and there were still remnants of sunlight until midnight. Other nights, the first colors of sunset didn’t show until around 10pm.

Lost in an Icelandic Forest

They say that if you get lost in an Icelandic forest, that all you need to do is merely standup. The native birch trees grow only about a meter tall.

It was pretty fun to pronounce Icelandic words and seemed fairly simple in its rules as a mix of Germanic and Scandinavian (does that make sense?). For example, our hotel was the Center Hotel Arnovall – pronounced aargnovawlkh. All the t-shirts had the name of the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, that erupted 2 years ago with the way to pronounce it. I got through the first four syllables before we left.

Reykjavik Sunset.

Reykjavik Sunset.

All in all, Iceland is a pretty rare and beautiful country.

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Boatel

Recently, I spent a night at the Boatel – a floating hotel and theater in Far Rockaway fashioned out of abandoned and reclaimed boats.

My friends and I were supposed to go the weekend of Hurricane Irene but it got postponed to this weekend when the temperature dropped into the frigid 50s. We weren’t quite sure what to expect because the only information about the Boatel, is an article in the New York Times and the fact that it has been sold out all summer. So, of course we had to check it out.

But whether it was the weather or just my long week catching up to me, I was underwhelmed.

The best way to describe the boatel experience is to call it more like a youth hostel in a foreign country that was listed in Lonely Planet as the hostel to stay at. We could have been in a foreign country as it took over an hour to get there via the A Train (and almost 2 hours to get back due to construction).

We were greeted by Constance Hockaday who showed us to our boat, the New York, N.Y. After scoping out the boat situation we settled on the main dock with other boatelies. And this is where the typical hostel conversation came up – How did you hear about this? Where do you live? Where are you from? Where did you get that food?

We ate some long-awaited hot dogs with mustard and then all gathered around for a lecture presented by Connie about how water can lead to transcendence. The presentation was entertaining and educational, spanning philosophical discourse to daddy issues. But afterwards, everyone went back to their respective boats and did not come back out until morning.

All in all, it sounds like a cool idea – especially in NYC – but it just did not deliver.

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