Raleigh & Durham, North Carolina

Sosta café in downtown Raleigh

We had a family party a few weekends ago. It was pretty typical gathering, a twice-yearly, all-in-one occasion where we get all the cousins and aunts and uncles together, eat a lot of food, and celebrate all the birthdays/graduations/momentous life events that occurred since the last fiesta six months ago. It’s a great system, really, for an extended family that has spread out across most of New England: festive, and efficient.

My cousin Alex flew all the way from her job training in Raleigh back to Connecticut just to be home for this party, and we were talking outside on the porch when she mentioned that her training was over in two weeks and she would be making the long trek from Raleigh back home to Connecticut. I nodded sympathetically—a solo ten-hour drive didn’t sound much fun to me either—when she paused and said “Hey, why don’t you fly down and hang for a few days before driving back with me?”

Now I had never been to North Carolina before. And a ten hour drive didn’t sound so terrible once you had two drivers to make it. Prior commitments? None. Work? Flexible. More than anything, I couldn’t ignore an opportunity to travel, especially when it was to a place I’d never been before. I was in.

We booked my flight the next afternoon, and a week later I was hanging out at a terminal in LaGuardia waiting for my plane to arrive. Which it did… but three hours late. Alex had warned me that her LaGuardia-Raleigh trip the week prior had been anything but smooth, and friends from work had shared similarly delayed and exasperating experiences. My (very flawed) logic when choosing my flight had been that if so many NYC-Raleigh flights had been delayed or cancelled for inane reasons, then the chances that mine would be fine were high. All the bad luck had already been used up. Right?

Ahhh, well… ‘fraid not. My plane was suffering from a broken air conditioner that day and, alas, was not feeling up to the journey. We had to wait for our replacement, some of us more patiently than others (I’m looking at you, cranky airport lady. You seemed to take it as a personal affront that our plane literally had no chill and couldn’t fly us that day. Funny, it seems you two had a lot in common). When the substitute aircraft finally arrived, they had us in the air and back down again in under two hours—all in all, a bit tedious and boring, but not the worst flight experience I’ve ever had.

Originally, I was supposed to arrive in North Carolina at around two pm, Uber on over to my cousin’s apartment, and hang out until she got home from work around five. After a long day of sitting in a grimy airport terminal and sweating my way across NYC via public transportation, there was nothing I wanted more than a shower and a quick rest. Unfortunately, with the delay, Alex ended up beating me home, and instead of a nap and shower I just threw on some nicer clothes and we headed out to downtown Raleigh for dinner.

Besides a nap and a shower, finding some real food was an interest vying for my immediate attention. My motives were one-part hunger and one-part a burning need to obliterate the memory of the soggy eggplant sandwich I bought for eleven dollars and a resigned sigh during the delay at the airport.

We decided to go to a Greek restaurant, Taverna Agora, a cute and very European-looking place with a rooftop seating area and little twinkling lights strung around the trees and walls. It was a beautiful night, a cool breeze erasing the heat from the day, and the cicadas droning not too loudly in the distance. We sat upstairs on the deck, and had some seriously amazing food and drinks while catching up on everything new and exciting. Even though it was a Thursday night in the city, our restaurant and many of the other downtown venues were surprisingly uncrowded. It was nice, really nice– good food, good company, and a perfectly new and welcoming city to explore.

I’ve always believed that the spontaneous trips are often the best ones. With no concrete plans you can’t help but keep an open mind, and you’ll often end up trying things you wouldn’t have considered with a strict itinerary. My five days in North Carolina were absolutely one of those trips; here are some of my favorite places I visited during my random little jaunt down south.

In Raleigh:

  1. Taverna Agora, obviously. Great Greek food, awesome drinks (try the spiked basil lemonade and the Greek mule), and a great environment to hang out and chat for an hour or four.
  2. Parks. Tons of parks. I have no idea what these parks are called but they are lovely and they are everywhere. Bring a book and find a shady spot to hang out for a while, North Carolina weather is perfect for that sort of thing.
  3. Café Sosta, this cool little European-themed café near downtown. I brought my laptop here one afternoon to get all my neglected work done. A really friendly French dude runs the place, and they have excellent coffee.
  4. Raleigh Beer Garden, current Guinness World Record holder for the most draft beers under one roof. It’s some crazy number like 365 beers on tap, and the menu is constantly changing. Three stories, each with its own bar, and a rooftop patio with some nice views of the city. Just a really cool place over all, definitely worth checking out.
  5. Treat Ice Cream, a really great local ice cream shop I sat in for a whole hour one afternoon to cool down in the air conditioning and mooch off their Wifi. Bonus points for being the place where I, in a crazy coincidental turn of fate, ran into some friends from back home in Massachusetts. Clearly, the universe smiles upon this ice cream place and you should all go. (Ice cream is wicked good too, try the honey almond flavor).
  6. Tasca Brava, aka THE PLACE THAT SERVES LITERALLY BEST SPANISH FOOD I’VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. EVER. And I lived in Spain for a year! I could write a whole separate blog just about this place alone: the incredible food, the very authentic Spanish atmosphere, the charming guy with a booming laugh and a little bit of sadness behind his eyes who runs it. Do yourself a favor, and if you’re ever in Raleigh, go here. If you’re ever within 100 miles of Raleigh, go here. It’s worth it.

In Durham:

  1. Duke Botanical Gardens, go here. It’s a huge park to explore, it’s free (minus parking), and it is very beautiful. Acres upon acres of different gardens to explore, some spots shadier than others. I spent almost three hours wandering here and barely made it to half of the gardens.
  2. Beyu Caffe, I grabbed lunch here on my single afternoon in Durham. Really good food, really good coffee, with a funky jazz/boho vibe to top it all off.

I swear I did more on this trip than just eat food, though I really did love some of the dining options nearby. If you’re ever near Raleigh, I hope you have the chance to check out some of my favorite stops. If you’re a local, and there’s somewhere great I missed, leave a comment so I’ll know where to check out next time.


Costa Rica Part III

Today is February 10th. A day of no great personal importance, excepting the large X I was just able to draw through that box on my calendar. Well, to be honest, it is a mental calendar. And an imaginary X. A paper organizer would be far too proper for someone with my incredible tendencies of disorder and messiness.

But I’m excited about my imaginary X all the same. Really, super, ecstatically excited, because that X means I am one day closer to my next adventure in beautiful Costa Rica.

COSTA RICA. HELL YEAH. If you know me personally, then you likely already know that this country is very near and dear to my heart. I am tempted to name it my favorite, but I have seen so little of the world I’m not sure I’m quite yet ready to part with that title. Let’s say, favorite country yet, and a lifetime guarantee of a spot in my all-time Top 5. Deal? Deal.

Costa Rica is special to me for many reasons, the foremost being that it was the first foreign country I ever travelled to on my own. It’s strange to think that first trip was almost two years ago, a period of time that feels longer every time I think about it.

So much has changed in two years. Most of it, parts of me; and most of it, arguably for the better. I feel more true, more honest, more me, as though the Devinne of today is infinitely more in tune to her life and the world around her.

To return again to Costa Rica, a place that holds so many of my memories and landmark moments is like seeing an old friend again for the first time in many years. She looks nearly the same as the last time we met. Me, I’ve colored my hair and grew six inches—I’m nearly unrecognizable.

But that’s one of the neatest things about travelling while you’re young: places often change so much slower than you do.

I have a picture from one of my first days in Costa Rica, a picture from two summers ago. I’m smiling, cheesin’ hard for the camera, posing next to one of my fellow machitas and with an army of beer bottles on the table in front of us.

I remember where exactly the picture was taken, at one of our soon-to-be favorite bars, just a few blocks down from the university we were studying at that summer. It couldn’t have been more than our second day in the country, or later than 11:00 that morning, but we were so excited to be in a real bar with real alcoholic drinks that we had ordered ourselves.

It’s a rush I’d wager most American under-21’s experience at least once in their lives, and one we certainly were intoxicated by– even if we were simultaneously aware that spending some money on booze was really not anything to write home about.

Luckily, there was no need to write home, because social media made those moments instantly available to friends back in the States and preserved forever in the great eternal memory we call the internet.

Looking back on that time is something I do both literally and figuratively. I often find myself reflecting on the many wild and crazy adventures we had that summer, or looking back through old Instagrams to see the captured moments I once thought were necessary and worthy to share with the world.

I have plenty of memories from that exciting summer, some of which I am fonder than others. Nearly all of those memories feel old. Stale. Foreign. I honestly can’t quite believe that they are my memories, as they bear little resemblance to the moments I most cherish now.

See, Costa Rica was so much more than just the start of my career as a traveler. For me, it was the beginning of a far more intimate journey, the most important one of all: to find and be true to myself.

Next week I will be embarking on my third (!!) adventure to Costa Rica in two years. With each successive return, I find myself exiting the airport a little happier, a little calmer, and always more excited to show my dear, favorite country the Devinne I am a little closer to becoming.

The new me still knows her way around the old streets. I can walk past the bars where I spent so many nights that one distant summer and be glad for the memories, and also glad that part of my journey is in the past.

I thank serendipity, coincidence, and destiny for leading me back to my Central American paradise—there’s nowhere else I would expect to have my first big break to pursue what I love. I’m grateful for the continuing support of my friends and family, the people who never stop pushing me to pursue my passions. And perhaps most of all, I am grateful for myself. For changing. For accepting change with an open heart, and an open mind. For allowing serendipitous coincidences to take me to Costa Rica and beyond, and with each adventure another step closer to my dreams.