About Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.
Latest Posts by Megan McDonough
Since summer is in full swing, we decided to take a look at some of Europe’s most captivating and compelling port cities. Whether you choose to visit the beautiful and balmy Mediterranean or the colder yet equally attractive Baltic Sea, there are plenty of opportunities to discover what life next to the coast is really like. Three of the most scenic coastal cities are Hamburg, Barcelona and Dubrovnik but even if you don’t get the chance to see them by boat, they are just as impressive by land.
So if you fancy joining these masses, or simply feel like getting away from it all for a spell, why not check out some of Europe’s most ports.
Despite going toe-to-toe with Berlin and Munich, Germany’s other economic powerhouses, the country’s largest port has a more cosmopolitan and hedonistic feel to it. Two thirds of the evergreen Hamburg is dedicated to parks or lakes while time-honored buildings and modern architecture overlook the city’s canals and quaysides.
As you’d expect from a water-rich city, numerous activities and attractions make the most of Hamburg’s lakes and canals. You can sail across the Alster Lake, paddle a canoe along winding waterways or just unwind at the Holthusen Baths.
Learning about Hamburg’s commercial side with a tour of its port is an educational experience, but for more cultural encounters be sure to check out the Kunsthalle art museum.
Photo: Flickr/Giuseppe Bognanni
Even if this is one of Europe’s most popular cruise ports, the remarkably beautiful city of Barcelona simply cannot be ignored. Catalonia’s capital is an eclectic mix of Gothic architecture, modern skyscrapers, beaches to die for and a vibrant nightlife.
Barcelona is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, so put the ‘green ring’ of cycle paths that surround the city’s metropolitan area to good use and explore the sights with pedal power. Alternatively, the Costa Brava coastline is the perfect spot for surfing, wakeboarding and jet-skiing.
The work of renowned architect Antoni Gaudí is visible throughout the city, but La Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and Casa Milà are particular highlights. For a quintessential Barcelona experience, take a stroll down La Rambla (the city’s most famous street) and let the various street performers and human statues entertain you, or visit the harbor side promenade La Ribera.
Photo: Flickr/Miquel González Page
According to George Bernard Shaw, “those who seek paradise on Earth should seek it in Dubrovnik.” Encircled by the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is referred to as “the Pearl of the Adriatic” and the old city sits comfortably on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
If you like adventure sports, you’ll like Dubrovnik. Sea kayaking, mountain biking, scuba diving and rock climbing are all here in plentiful supply, thanks to the surrounding waters and Dalmatian mountains. More traditional Croatian encounters include hunting small game like mouflon and fishing for bluefin tuna.
Historical attractions are the order of the day here. Dubrovnik Cathedral, the Franciscan Monastery, Sponza Palace, Rector’s Palace and the Church of St Blaise should be on the bucket list if you’re looking to come away with a sense of Dubrovnik’s history and culture.
You have bohemian Hamburg, cultural Barcelona and historic Dubrovnik. The time on the seas… the adventure… the discovery… visiting ports like these is what makes cruises fun.
Photo: Flickr/Jonathan Tweed
This is a guest post by Christopher Harvey.
Next time you head to Germany, think beyond Berlin and Munich. Hamburg is a great neighborhood city so as expected, I had a field day biking through them all. For the most part, Hamburg is already pretty established yet there are many changes in the works to drastically modernize the city as a whole. Many of the neighborhoods have or are currently experiencing gentrification, with HafenCity undergoing a complete revamp. There are a lot of neighborhoods in Hamburg but these fie are my favorites and in my opinion, the most appealing to any bohemian traveler looking to experience the city’s more alternative side.
Old Town / City Center
Like many European cities, the Old Town (Altstadt) serves as the Hamburg’s City Center. There’s technically a New Town (Neustadt) as well but if you look at a map, you’ll notice that these are somewhat meshed together. The newer side has more parks while the older side houses many of Hamburg’s historic buildings, pedestrian walkways and monuments. This is probably the most traditional-looking district in Hamburg but it’s not to be overlooked. I suggest heading to the harbor for a picturesque view of the city or shopping for local spices at the market. Rathausmarket (pictured below) is the center of all the action and is located next to City Hall. This is a good starting or ending point.
By far Hamburg’s most bohemian neighborhood, Sternschanze, or simply “Schanze,” is where all the hipsters live, work and play. There are also cafes, bars, restaurants and nightclubs to keep people entertained at all hours of the day and night. If you’ve ever visited Berlin, this neighborhood might feel a bit familiar. It’s gone through gentrification but there’s still a gritty appeal to the streets and a feeling of creativity in the air, as seen through the colorful street art lining the walls, weekend flea markets and a mixture of rundown and renovated buildings.
Schanze belongs to the borough of Altona, an up-and-coming area that boasts a bohemian and multicultural culture. Ottensen high street is the go-to place for shopping and clubbing and for live music, go to Fabrik.
There are lots of exciting changes happening in Hamburg and many of them are taking place in HafenCity, the city’s newest quarter. This mostly upscale residential area has been revamping abandoned warehouses into fancy offices, hotels, shops and cultural museums. As our tour guide explained, right now most of HafenCity is occupied by the wealthiest inhabitants who own several homes, which might explain why the neighborhood feels much quiet than most. The HafenCity project master plan covers ten different neighborhoods of different sizes so we can expect a lot of new developments in this part of Hamburg.
Just north of HafenCity is the Speicherstadt, the largest imber-pile warehouse in the world and also formerly part of the free zone. The Hamburg Dungeon, the Miniaturwunderland or the Deutsches Zollmuseum are all located here.
I spent my last morning in town walking through the St. Georg neighborhood. Just a short walk from the city center, St. Georg is Hamburg’s gay district and in my opinion, one of the most architecturally stunning. I wandered along Lange Reihe on a Saturday morning and things were already starting to pick up. Along the streets are cafes where locals get together for brunch, fashion and accessories stores and on this particular day, a street fair was about to take over the neighborhood. I saw several pop-up bars, a few rather impressive food stands with mobile ovens and even a few interactive games for children. All in all, this family-friendly area is one of Hamburg’s most frequented areas.
Located in the northern part of St. Pauli is the tiny neighborhood of Karolinenviertel. The main street is Marktstraße and while the area is mostly gentrified, there still plenty of hints of what the streets looked like before. Despite its quaint appearnce, the shops are surprisingly innovative.
Head to Maison Suneve, a Hamburg-based fashion label that designs womenswear, for pieces blending French and German minimalism and elegance. Their work is mostly inspired by digital prints and abstract shapes and if you look closely at some of their dresses from last season, you’ll see that the prints are actually based on some of the world’s most famous architectural buildings and landmarks.Similarly, Lockengeloet sells unique handmade items made from recyclable materials. Everything, from the oil barrels that become cupboards to the vinyl records that turn into wall lamps or books, are produced locally in St. Pauli
Also known as “Kiez,” St. Pauli is a avant-garde blend of culture, grittiness and entertainment. It’s Hamburg’s Red Light District but don’t let that deter you. The streets north of the Reeperbahn are more appropriate for day activities, as there are many cafes, restaurants and art galleries to visit. The streets south of the Reeperbahn are more nightlife-centric, so plan on hitting up a few bars and clubs in this part of town. Beatles’ fans should visit INDRA (Große Freiheit 64), where they band first performed. You can also stop by the apartment where they used to live, which is about a two minute walk from the infamous venue. To catch some of the after parties, head to the fish market on Landungsbruecken.
This trip was hosted by Hamburg Tourism. All opinions are my own.
I have traveled through Europe quite a bit over the past few years and over that time, I have probably visited close to a hundred museums. During my semester living and studying in London, I made it a point to see all that the city had to offer and museums were definitely on my list. That was in 2008 and there wasn’t a great method for purchasing entrance tickets ahead of time, or at least, I didn’t know of any. I usually bought tickets the day of and hoped that my student discount would save me a few pounds.
That was then and this is now. A few weeks ago I discovered Musement, a site that allows you to find and book handpicked tours, tickets to local attractions, museums, art exhibits and city passes around the world. Right now, their main markets are in big cities throughout Europe like Berlin, London, Madrid, Barcelona but also right here in New York. Besides a clean interface that is easy to navigate, I found the images inspiring and it really got me pumped for my trip to Hamburg and Berlin, which I just came back from.
I’m often on a budget when I travel and the fact that Musement guarantees the lowest prices is a major selling point. The packages also go beyond the typical tourism attractions and deep into the heart of the city. For example, for travelers heading to Berlin, Museument offers the Berlin Welcome Card for Museum Island but they also have an interactive walking tour, a pub crawl and an alternative tour for those who aren’t really the museum type. Another major perk for booking with Musement is that you get to skip the lines and if you’ve ever vacationed during the busy summer months, you know that is is invaluable.
When I arrived in Berlin I opted for the general Berlin Welcome Tour because I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do this time around. Sure, I could have tailored my experience a bit more but this was my second trip to Berlin and I wanted more flexibility in terms of activities and cultural excursions. That’s my preferred travel style, but there’s something for everyone so take your time looking at the different options on their website to see which option is the best fit.
As it turns out, The Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island was a good choice. It offers free travel on all public transportation services, including the Berlin Tegel Airport and free entry to the museums on Museum Island (Alte Nationalgalerie, Altes Museum, Bodemuseum, Neues Museum and Pergamonmuseum) for three consecutive days (excluding special exhibitions). Since the museums are all located within walking distance, you can either visit them all on a rainy day or space them out throughout your stay.
The pass also offers discounts to 27 other museums and attractions in addition to discounts on guided bicycle tours, boat trips, theatre shows, restaurants and clubs. Personally, I took the U-Bahn and S-Bahn a lot over the course of three days, so that really came in handy. Berlin is definitely a biking city but for longer distances, the underground and overground are great options for saving time.
Lastly, the pass comes with a small guide with tips and tour suggestions, a map of subway system and a city map. The booklet is small enough to fit in your purse or your back pockets so I recommend bringing it along with you in case your iPhone runs out of battery or you aren’t sure where exactly to eat dinner one night. It was surprisingly useful during my stay.
Similar to my last trip, much of my time in Berlin was spent wandering through the city’s revamped neighborhoods. In the end, I only went to one museum while in Berlin and it was the DDR Museum. Technically it’s not on Museum Island but the pass does grant a discounted fee. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall so I was curious for a glimpse into what life was like for residents in East Germany during these 28 years.
The museum is relatively small in terms of size but one can easily spend two hours here. I finished in just over an hour but I was on somewhat of a time crunch. Through a series of interactive exhibits, ranging from a hands-on Trabi and childhood propaganda to a recreation of a living room, guests are introduced to a much different Berlin than the one we know today. Photos, documentaries, furniture and sliding drawers showcasing everything from women’s fashion to politically charged children’s toys, show rather than tell guests how it was to live in the GDR.
What is the best museum you’ve ever visited? Tell me in the comments below!
This trip was hosted by Visit Berlin. All opinions are my own.
In April, I moved to Brooklyn and it didn’t take me long to discover just how alive the street art scene is here. My new neighborhood is Bushwick, which seems to be the main hub for graffiti artists. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I discovered the existence of the Bushwick Collective and shared a few images.
I first stumbled upon this outdoor gallery while on my way to drop off my first month’s rent check. It’s safe to say that I found a treasure trove of inspiring murals. Basically, the Bushwick Collective is just what it’s name suggests. It’s a collection of street art from local artists, all showcasing different styles and aesthetics.
According to Business Insider, the leader of the pack so to speak is Joseph Ficalora, a long-time Bushwick resident. While Bushwick is still one of the grittier neighborhoods in Brooklyn, it’s interesting to see it emerge as an up-and-coming area. As I wandered along Troutman Street I noticed quite a few bars and restaurants that have opened up shop. I’m sure that in a few more years, the same transformation that happened to Williamsburg will happen here.
Most of the murals are set up along Troutman Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue but if you wander down a few of the side streets, there are more to see. While I’m not positive that all of the images included in this post are part of the Bushwick collective, I have a hunch that they are. I’ve included a few of my favorites below along with captions of my own creation.
Introducing the Bushwick Collective
Becoming One with Nature
Dabbling in the graffiti arts
A bunch of nonsense that somehow makes sense
Circles and triangles
Biggie Smalls on the wall
What is your favorite city or neighborhood for street art? Tell me in the comments below!
If you head to Sweden, Stockholm will inevitably be on the list. It’s the London of Sweden except that it is a little less hectic. Stockholm is one of those cities that appeals to just about every type of traveler. Culture enthusiasts have a slew of museums to choose from while foodies can indulge in traditional cuisine with a modern twist at every meal. While Stockholm has somewhat of a bad reputation when it comes to the exchange rate, it’s still a destination that I highly recommend adding to your wanderlust list.
Take a Boat to Vaxholm, a Main Archipelago Hub
Sure, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Stockholm but some of my favorite moments actually happened on the humble island of Vaxholm. Based on what my guide explained, Vaxholm is to Stockholmers what The Hamptons are to New Yorkers, except a little more “down to earth.”
While in the archipelago, I sampled local cheeses from Ostmakeriet including one infused with juniper and another with schnapps from the island of Möja. Besides the typical Swedish architecture you find in Vaxholm, many artists and musicians settle here because it’s so quiet and peaceful. I opted to spend a night in town at a local bed and breakfast and it was really comforting to feel like I had a home away from home. Many people commute between Stockholm and Vaxholm and boats depart daily.
Looking for more Stockholm fun? Visit The Vasa Museum to see a larger-than-life ship, feast your eyes on Sweden’s best design brands in Östermalm or stroll through Gamla Stan in the early mornings to feel like you’ve time traveled.
Meander Through Södermalm to Shop & People Watch
I’m a neighborhood-obsessed traveler, so Södermalm quickly became my favorite artistic hub in Stockholm. Technically, Södermalm is an island (roughly translates to south isle) and within this island there are a few different areas. The most hipster-centric is SoFo, which is essentially a bohemian’s paradise. Short for “south of Folkungagatan,” this is where trendsetters go to eat, shop and gossip. The main activity takes place near Nytorget Square so that’s a good starting point.
SoFo is filled with shops selling everything from vintage jewelry and second-hand housewares to records and random knick knacks and it deserves a few hours if you can spare. Tjallamalla (Bondegatan 46), Kinglily (Södermannagatan 11) and Aplace (Brunogallerian) are great examples of how Stockholmers like to dress.
Taste Organic Food at Rosendals Trädgård (Rosendal’s Garden)
This was easily my favorite spot in Stockholm and I almost gave up trying to find it. For those of you who are less directionally challenged than me, just head to Djurgården, which is another island in Stockholm and one primarily comprised of parkland and museums. At first glance, Rosendals Trädgård might look like a spacious patch of grass but there’s a lot going on here. Firstly, this is a popular locale for family picnics and scenic walks around the grounds.
There is also a cafe selling fresh local produce food from local vendors, with both indoor and outdoor seating available. In fact, you could stop by everyday of your trip if you wanted to because there’s a new dish served daily. If you’re in town for awhile, why not buy one of the plants and start a garden of your own? Bike rentals are also available at the tourist information center.
Brush up on Alcohol History at the Spirits Museum
Also located on Djurgården is the Spirits Museum, which also happens to have a lovely view of the water. Unlike huge museums that can seem overwhelming, the Spirits Museum will probably only take you an hour, maybe two if you’re really interested in the exhibit. Right now the exhibit is “Sweden: Spirits of a Nation” but while I was in town I caught the end of the “Art Pop” exhibit that showcased how music and alcohol are often intertwined.
Through a series of interactive installations and a collection of vinyl record cover art, I traveled through music history from the mid-1950s through today. Anyone interested in music and art should definitely squeeze this into their itinerary. Wine enthusiasts will appreciate their variety of tastings, including “flavors of Sweden,” Swedish whiskey,” and “flavor your own snaps.”
Gallery Hop for Arts & Craftsmanship in Mariatorget
The Mariatorget are of Södermalm has a lot to offer cultural travelers. The area is somewhat hilly and if you walk on the street closest to the water (Söder Mälarstrand) you’ll have a spectacular and elevated view of the city. There’s even a little walking path there offering a few different views of the city skyline.
This area is also quite picturesque in terms of architecture and many locals artists choose this upscale neighborhood to showcase their best work. Kaolin (ceramics) and The Glassery (glass) are both located along Hornsgatan. In between popping in and out of the craft stores, reserve a few minutes to yourself. Either take a breather on one of the benches shown below or dip into one of the local coffee shops. I also saw lots of families here so I’m guessing this is a coveted place to live.
This trip was hosted by the Visit Sweden and Visit Stockholm. All opinions are my own.
While my trip to Sweden was a short one, I still learned a few life lessons along the way. Ever since traveling to Norway two years ago, I’ve been fascinated by Scandinavian culture and lifestyle so naturally, I was a tad overjoyed to be spending a few warm, Spring days in and around Stockholm. While some of my findings aren’t really findings at all, I still wanted to point them out. Travel is all about going out of our comfort zones and seeing the world with a fresh pair of eyes and that’s exactly what I did this past week in Sweden. Here are a few things that impacted me the most.
1) Quality of life reigns supreme
There’s really something to be said about nations that place high importance on the quality of life. Personally, I admire Sweden’s approach to the work/life balance that so many of us struggle to achieve. Sweden’s commitment to human rights actually dates back to 1766 when they became the first country to introduce freedom of the press. In addition to meeting basic human rights (food, shelter, medicare) mothers can enjoy up to 480 days of paid parental leave per child and the husbands are also rewarded ample time off and are encouraged to take it. That’s why you will see tons of men pushing baby prams on the street. Tax-wise, is it really an issue if you’re getting so much in return? I think not.
2) Design is and should be part of everyday life
It’s really no surprise that Stockholm is a design capital of the world. After all, IKEA got its start here and that’s really just scratching the surface. With brands like Asplund and Svenskt Tenn dominating the Stockholm design scene, there’s still room for up-and-comers. But beyond the well-known design houses, it’s clear that artistic expression comes in many forms. I started noticing this while on my way to dinner one night as I passed by a small cafe with a cluster of these happy guys (pictured below). As simple as it might seem, it was an instant reminder that if you look for it, design is really all around. This is one lesson I’ll be exercising on my next few trips. Being observant is never a bad thing!
3) Innovation knows no bounds
If you’re into tech start-ups, you probably already know that the popular company Spotify hails from Stockholm. There are plenty of other tech companies making waves — Instabridge, Unomaly and Mostphotos to name a few and based on what I could gather, the community is very supportive and tight-knit, much like other innovative hubs. One company that really stood out to me is HTL, a new hotel chain revolutionizing the accommodations experience. This screen (pictured below) is what my simple yet chic room had to offer. I could connect my computer, learn about the artists featured throughout the hotel and even get some travel tips. It’s kind of nice to let your hotel do all the work.
4) Everyone is equal and that’s a good thing
It goes without saying that everyone is equal but of course, we all have our moments of selfishness. Maybe it was just my perception but I felt a sense of comradery among the Stockholm residents that I encountered. It was almost as if the “We’re All in this Together” song from High School Musical was ringing in each person’s ears. Disney reference aside, this is also seen in quite logical ways. For example, people take pride in their environment here. Littering is rare and literally everywhere you turn, it’s clean and and shiny. People respect each other and they respect the natural landscape that is not an urban oasis. I really appreciated how well-maintained the city is, including the public transportation.
5) Beauty comes in many forms
On a surface level, yes, nearly everyone I saw in Stockholm was gorgeous but beauty goes far beyond the locals. One aspect that really struck me was the amount of detail that goes into preparing a meal. I also observed that many chefs are making a point to not only source organic ingredients but in some cases, grow their own. While visiting Vaxholm, a picturesque island in the archipelago, I met Amanda from Bistro Sva Marga mat who was nice enough to let me wander through her herb garden after scarfing down this delight (photo below). Other forms of beauty revealed themselves through creative window displays found throughout a few of the city’s contrasting neighborhoods like Södermalm and Östermalm.
This trip was hosted by the Visit Sweden and Visit Stockholm. All opinions are my own.
While I haven’t been properly trained in the art of photography, I have plenty of time to experiment and improve my skills while on the road. I certainly have a long way to go but I’ve noticed some improvement over the past few years, mainly from trial and error. That being said, my knowledge is limited which is why I’ve decided to bring in a pro to fill in the gaps. Here are 10 tips from photographer Harv Greenberg to implement on your next vacation.
1) Compose Landscape Photos
A great landscape often fall flat on photographs because the viewer doesn’t get a sense of being there. In order give the necessary three dimensionality, include a strong foreground element like a beautiful flower or an unusual rock formation. Having an interesting background element is equally important and might include white cumulus clouds dotting a fabulous blue sky or an amazing violet sunset.
“English Grandeur” – Leeds Castle – Kent, England.
2) Perspective is key
Often times the best angle to photograph your subject is not standing over it, but crouching down and shooting at their eye level. On a recent trip to Antarctica I saw a group of people towering over a single penguin. The best way to capture small wildlife is to either lie on your stomach or kneel down so that your camera lens is closer to their eye level.
“Three’s a Crowd” – King penguins on the South Georgia Island near Antarctica.
3) Photographing the sky
When the sky is ablaze at sunset or sunrise, only a sliver of land is necessary to provide the viewer with the proper orientation. On days when the sky is a brilliant shade of blue and there’s a complete absence of clouds, include as little of the sky as possible as a cloudless sky looks quite dull in a photograph.
“Fire in the Sky” – Sunrise at Charleston Harbor – South Carolina.
4) Bring along the proper lens
In my experience the most versatile zoom lens to shoot photographs while on vacation is a 24 – 70 mm or other mid-range zoom that allows you to go from a medium wide angle to shooting portraits of the family and locals.
Amazon River native – Peru.
5) Become familiar with your camera before you leave on vacation
For you new digital SLR users, it’s essential to learn about aperture and shutter priority modes, ISO selection and exposure compensation. If you just purchased your first compact camera, focusing on learning about scene selection modes will serve you best. There’s nothing more frustrating than missing that once in a lifetime sunset because you weren’t able to dial in the proper settings on the camera.
“Tahai Sunset” – Easter Island – Chile.
6) The rule of thirds in landscape photography
This “rule” stems from the theory that the human eye will gravitate to intersection points when a photograph is divided into thirds. Divide your composition into thirds by creating two imaginary horizontal and two vertical lines thereby creating a tic tac toe matrix. Important elements of your photograph should be placed on or near the imaginary lines and where they intersect. In practice, if you’re shooting a landscape and the focus is the land (i.e. mountains), the horizon should be placed along the upper third while if the focus is on the sky (i.e. sunrise), the horizon should be placed along the lower third of the composition.
“Sunday Morning” – The Ocean Course – Kiawah Island.
7) Try shooting in black and white
When the clouds conspire on your vacation and all you see is gray outside, it’s the perfect time to shoot in black and white. The soft light will give you silky transitions. Look for unusual shapes and shadows to include in your composition. A host of structural elements can add texture to your photographs like wood, stone, metal or sand.
“Floating Serenity” – The Dead Sea – Jordan.
8) Maximize your depth of field
To ensure that as much of your subject is in focus, select a small aperture setting (large number) since the smaller your aperture the greater your depth of field. It’s important to keep in mind that smaller apertures mean less light is hitting your camera’s sensor so you may have to increase your ISO sensitivity. I typically shoot with apertures between f/14 and f/22 and ISO values between 100 and 400.
“Serenity Valley” – Peyto Lake – Banff, Canada.
9) Find a focal point for your photograph
All shots needs a focal point to avoid looking empty. Without one, your photos will leave your viewer’s eyes wandering with no place to rest. Focal points can take any number of shapes and sizes from mountains and wildlife to flowers and bridges.
“Morning’s First Light” – Stowe, Vermont
10) Capturing movement
Few landscapes are completely still and capturing movement in your photographs will add a sense of drama and a dynamic quality that will add to your viewer’s interest. Capturing the movement of a of a babbling brook often requires a shutter speed of 1 or 2 seconds. The prolonged exposure means that more light is reaching your camera’s sensor so you will likely need to use a smaller aperture and/or a filter to reduce the amount of light and prevent over exposure.
“The Whispering Stream” – Mt. Rainier National Park – Washington State.
Harv Greenberg is a radiologist by profession and a photographer and world traveler by passion.
It’s not everyday that you get to chat with your favorite fiction writer but that’s exactly what happened when I decided to reach out to Alexandra Potter on Twitter a few weeks ago. I was in the middle of reading one of her books, You’re The One That I Don’t Want, and was in near hysterics at a particular moment in the story. I decided to tweet how much I was enjoying the book and a few minutes later she responded. Rest assured, it made my day. I have to say, Twitter is pretty awesome.
One of my favorite things about Alexandra’s stories is that they are based in some of my favorite cities — London, New York and Venice to name a few. After conducting this interview and learning that Paris and India are other locales, my reading list is looking pretty good right now.
Her characters aren’t the only ones traveling; her readers do as well. In fact, I first discovered her at a hostel in San Diego, CA during my senior year spring break. A friend and I decided to skip the typical Cancun adventure and instead opted to head west for Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and finally San Diego. The hostel was one of the nicest I’ve been to and they had a book swap in a quiet corner of the lounge. Intrigued by the playful cartoon cover of Who’s That Girl? I picked it up and didn’t put it down. Unfortunately I didn’t have a book to give in exchange so sorry about that, hostel of San Diego!
As a writer myself, I find Alexandra’s journey from magazine editor to full-time author inspiring to say the least. In her books, the city doesn’t serve as just a backdrop but rather a central character. I hope you find the interview below as motivational as I do! Oh and her pictures will likely give you a serious case of wanderlust!
Alexandra, can you start by telling us where you’re from and where you are right now?
Right now I’m sitting in a little cafe in Kensington in London. I have an office at home but often I like to get out and about to write as I find it inspires me.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you sort of “fall into” it?
I think I was born wanting to be a writer. As a child I was forever writing short stories and novels, many of which I recently found when I cleared out my parent’s attic. English was always my favourite at school and I went on to read English Literature at university.
When did you decide to take the leap and go from magazine editor to a full-time author?
I was twenty-eight and had recently moved back from Sydney, Australia where I had been living and working for the past year. Back in London I found myself editing a feature all about several young female writers who had published their first novels before they were thirty.
I read their first chapters and thought “I can do that!” It really inspired me. Several months later I’d written the first few chapters of my novel, What’s New, Pussycat? and secured an agent who loved what I’d written and told me to go away and write the rest of the book. I sold my car and lived on the proceeds for six months until I’d finished it. Within 24 hours of handing it in to my agent a bidding war broke out between several publishers and I was thrilled to sign a two-book deal. At that point I suddenly became a full-time author. It was life-changing and I will never forget that moment. It’s the kind of moment that you dream of.
One of my favorite things about your books is that there is usually some whimsical element to them (a legend or characters meeting their former selves and the reader not knowing if it’s real or imaginary). How do you strike that balance?
I started out writing what I call ‘straight’ romantic comedies, but after I’d written four books I was looking for something a little different. I moved to LA and it was there I had the idea to write about a girl who wishes for things and all those things come true.
Not big wishes. Just little, small, inconsequential wishes, the kind we make every day. That book was Be Careful What You Wish For and it became a huge success. It was also incredibly fun to write as I got think ‘what if’ a lot and let my imagination run wild. This led me to start thinking ‘what if’ about all kinds of different things, such as ‘what if you got to date Mr Darcy’ (which was the idea behind Me and Mr Darcy) or what if you got to meet your younger self (Who’s That Girl?). I love writing romantic comedies but I also love having that extra ‘magical’ twist.
Many of your novels take place in some of my favorite cities. Can you give us a glimpse into how you choose what destination to use as the backdrop to your stories?
I adore travelling. Always have. Always will. So my inspiration comes from all the places I’ve travelled to and loved. I think about my characters and the plot and then decide where I want to set the story, what can this city add to the novel. Often the city or backdrop acts as a third character. This was the case in my most recent book, The Love Detective, which is set in India. India played such a strong role in this book, it was both the inspiration and the passion that drove both the storyline and the characters.
What do you look for when researching a city? Do you already have characters in mind or does that come later?
I usually have the characters in mind from a very early stage, especially the heroine. I use the main character as a jumping off point and tend to research a city through their eyes. For example in the new book I am writing, The Love Detective in Paris, my main character Ruby goes to Paris and so I spent several days there in the new year, walking around the city, imagining I was her and the kinds of things she would think and feel.
How has travel inspired you in your own life and in your career as an author?
Travel has always played a huge role in my life. My earliest memories are those of travelling through France and Spain with my family, stopping in different towns and villages, eating local produce, learning foreign words, and seeing a completely different world to the one I lived in back home in Yorkshire.
My parents were huge travelers, my father especially, and as I grew up they instilled in me and my sister a desire to go out and see the world. I’ve lived in several different countries and travelled to many different places. Seeing new places, meeting new people and discovering different cultures has had a profound effect on who I am and how I see the world. This has affected my writing in many ways as I try to bring into each book many of my experiences. With my latest series,
The Love Detective, I wanted to add travel to the mix of romance, comedy and magic, making sure to set each book in a new and different location. So for the first in the series my character went to India and Rajasthan and in this next book she travels to Paris. I want to inspire my readers to travel, and if for some reason they’re unable to, then by reading my books they can travel from the comfort of their armchair.
As a freelance writer myself, I’d love to know what a typical day in the life of Alexandra Potter is like. Can you give us a peek into your creative process?
A typical day is quite hard to describe, because often my days are different, depending where I am in the world. However, whether I am in London or LA or further afield such as India or Paris, several hours each day will usually be spent writing in a library or a cafe – or my office if I am at home. I am a terrible in the mornings so most of my writing is done in the afternoon, after I’ve drunk a strong cup of espresso and dealt with paperwork, and the evenings I like to exercise, meet friends, or stay home and cook.
What are your favorite places in the world to travel?
India, and specially the region of Rajasthan has a special place in my heart. It simply is quite magical. If there is one place in the world I would recommend, it would be to spend time in Udaipur, taking in the view of the lake, or camping out in the desert in Jaisalmer.
I also love Ibiza. It has a reputation for being a party island but there are are some lovely unspoiled parts of the island, especially in the north, that are simply stunning. And the south of France will be forever be a favourite of mine. All that stinky cheese and rose wine. Delicious!
Any exciting plans in the works? A new book, perhaps?
Yes! I’m currently writing a new book called The Love Detective in Paris which is the next in the series. It’s set in Paris and has a wonderful magical mystery attached to it. And a love story. There’s always got to be a love story…. Speaking of, I have one of my own as I’m getting married this summer, which is very exciting.
Ok, time to do a lightning round of your favorite places to:
- Shop: Delhi
- Eat: Bangkok
- Play: Los Angeles
- Read: Paris
- Write: London
Photo credit: Alexandra Potter