Master Curator: Valentina Vitols

Where did you grow up?

I’m a bit of Jason Bourne when it comes to where I come from. My dad was born in Riga, Latvia and my mom’s family is from Italy. I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. This means I’m Venezuelan, Latvian, Italian, and also American. I love being from Latin America with my European background mixed in.  Because of this I’ve had a very interesting life. Even though I’ve been in the US for a long time and love it here, I’m very proud of my heritage.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today?  Tell me about them.
I think growing up in a country like Venezuela gave me very colorful and interesting life-molding experiences. It’s a beautiful country, with many different things to enjoy and experienced—especially while traveling. We have pretty much everything, out-of-this-world beaches, deserts and dunes, the Andes, some of the best bird-watching in the world, the Amazonian forest. However, it’s also a very challenging place due to lack of safety and resources. Later in my life, I think my trips to Cambodia, Tanzania, and Japan have had a huge impact in how I see the world, people, and culture. Each of these countries taught me something. Cambodians are sweet and welcoming despite their past struggles; Tanzania is breathtaking. I enjoyed seeing animals free to roam in their natural habitat, it was a joy! Japan has a service culture that’s admirable, so kind and proud of what they are offering you. And their food…is to die for, and I’m not talking about sushi only.

Let’s go back to Venezuela for a second – always a hop topic of conversation for people, namely travelers. What would you say to people who are seriously considering a trip there?

Hold off for a bit until things get settled. It’s way too convoluted right now. If the urge is too big, find a local and stay with that person from the moment you arrive until you leave. Don’t attempt to visit on your own. It’s a beautiful country but you will need tons of expert guidance.

Give us one of those great “24 Hours In…” for Seattle.

I love love love welcoming people to Seattle!

For those who like to be outdoors, start the day with a hike at Discovery Park. There are several gorgeous trails. My favorite is the one that goes all the way down to the The West Point Light, also known as the Discovery Park Lighthouse. Bring a picnic with goodies from Macrina Bakery  or Metropolitan Market (both have several locations in Seattle) and a four pack of DRY Sparkling, our beloved local non-alcoholic sparkling beverage.

If hiking is not your thing, wake up early and hit Pike Place Market before it gets too crowded. You can get coffee from the original Starbucks or Seattle Coffee Works and get the best breakfast of champions at the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company. Are you into healthier foods? Try Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt, Seattle’s favorite sweet treat, or buy fresh fruit from the many local vendors at the Market. Also…flower bouquets are spectacular and some are $5!

For lunch, find your way to the The Elliott Bay Water Taxi, located on Pier 55 on Seattle’s downtown waterfront at the foot of Spring Street. It goes all the way to Seacrest Dock at the edge of West Seattle’s Alki Point. Hop out and try the delicious food at Marination Mai Kai and then burn the calories walking the Alki Beach promenade.  The taxi operates year-round.

In case you want to stay close to the downtown area, take the Monorail from Westlake Center and visit Seattle Center. My recommendation here is to visit our world-famous and beloved indie radio station, KEXP, and have coffee inside at La Marzocco while (hopefully) catching a live show. Very close to KEXP, you can do lunch at Taylor Shelfish and try our delicious local oysters. The Experience Music Project (EMP) is also in the area, its Frank Ghery structure is hard to miss! It’s a fun and fascinating interactive space. Next to it are the Space Needle (go for the views) and the Chihuli Museum. Have your kids with you? Don’t miss the Pacific Science Center.

If you come to Seattle during baseball season, don’t miss a game at Safeco Field, one of the best stadiums in the United States. Enjoy our Mariners while indulging on local beers and garlic fries.

One of my favorite things to do in our city is a Seattle sightseeing seaplane flight. It’s a wonderful experience–our city is so beautiful! Plus, seaplanes are a huge part of our culture. If flying is not your thing, you can book a boat from the Electric Boat Company and spend a few hours in Lake Union. It’s a great way to see the famous boat house neighborhoods. Fun boating options with kids? Sunday Ice Cream Cruise or a free sail in a wooden boat courtesy of The Center Wooden Boats. These two last activities are on Sundays and both depart from Lake Union Park. Since you’ll be so close, make some time to go to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) one of the coolest ways to learn about Seattle’s incredible history.

There’s so much to do in Seattle on evenings. Check out the Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Repertory Theatre or Town Hall Seattle schedules for great pre or after dinner and drink performances. Head to Capitol Hill for dinner and cocktails. There are many fabulous places in this fun and vibrant neighborhood. My favorite restaurants are Bateau, Odd Fellows (ask to be seated at their lovely mini outdoor area in the back), Stateside, Marjorie, Naka, and Poppy. For fine dining in the same area, chose Altura. For drinks, head to the brand new Foreign National or veterans like Sun Liquor, Canon, or Liberty. If you hit Liberty for happy hour (4-7pm) stop by Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe beforehand. It’s one of the coolest places in Seattle, a true geek’s paradise.

Perfect places for a nightcap are Vito’s (a Seattle classic bar), Rob Roy, or Bar Bar. If you want to snap that postcard view of Seattle, there are three perfect spots. The most famous one is Kerry Park in Queen Anne. You can also get a fabulous photo of Seattle’s famous skyline from the Alki Beach Promenade, or from the Elliot Bay Marina/Pier 91.

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?

I work in the angel investing space, with groups that focus on women-led companies with a social impact component. It’s inspiring. It seems there is a new tendency where making money can be hand-in-hand with doing good. Some of the ladies I work with are truly changing the world. Plus, I’m a big fan of small businesses owned and operated by women.

Since my husband Ryan and I are the “World’s Most Curious Couple” we’re always out and about to discover new places to eat and visit. We are avid travelers, walkers/hikers, and we are in love with our hometown, Seattle. I can say we know it like the back of our hand. Since I’m very active on Instagram (sharing the fun we have here), I get a ton of questions from friends who want to visit or are coming here. I love sharing our experiences with others to help them have the best visit they can, and we usually play tour guides to friends and guests!

Luck of the draw that you and Ryan happen to both be amazing Instagram’ers?

Ryan is the best travel researcher alive and he doesn’t even work in the hospitality industry! I credit him with some of the best travel photos I’ve taken since he’s the one who finds the best places to visit. We work as a team when traveling together. He lays out the daily plan, I tag along and give him photo tips when out and about, I research places to eat, and we both break our Fitbits with thousands and thousands of steps. We’re avid walkers and users of mass transportation, and we love packing light 🙂

Speaking of photos, could you share one tip for taking a good one with our phone?

Use the grid on your phone camera or photo app of choice. Why? It’ll help you compose cleaner images, to get rid of those “fallen horizons” and give you a better sense of the spaces you’re capturing. The grid divides the screen in your phone into thirds. The rule of thirds is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule but it’s very useful to achieve powerful compositions.

And finally… Where’s the next big adventure?

Since Ryan and I can’t stay put, we already have a full travel schedule for the next ten months: Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Hong Kong, Macao, and Maui. I’m writing this from Palm Springs (first time!) on a solo trip. Other places I’m going on my own soon are San Diego, London, and Latvia. Yes, I have a mileage plan [laughs].

Follow Valentina on Instagram.

But be prepared to probably quit your job and go travel.