Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Road Trip: Watching My Dinner Swim in Halifax

Each one looked so peaceful. They were all swimming around and climbing over one another in a playful sibling sort of way, vying for what little space was left in their waterfront home. They had no idea what was going on. They had no idea that they would soon be whisked away into a shopping basket and weighed for sale. These innocent lobsters had no idea that they were going to become my very lavish dinner. 

I don't like to see my food alive. I am no vegetarian, but I can certainly understand the sentiment when an animal, or crustacean in this case, appears to be pleading for its life and you just don't think you should be eating it. If it lands on my plate fully prepared and beautiful, it spares me the thoughts of what that animal sacrificed for my feeding pleasure. Selfish, I know. 

But having lobster is just what you do when in Nova Scotia, it would almost be sinful not to. In fact, lobster is so abundant here that I had a completely 'only in Nova Scotia' moment when I spotted the McDonald's billboards promoting their McLobster sandwich (yes, really). Besides, when your wonderful hosts take you to the lobster market and exhibit pure excitement at the opportunity to let you hand pick just which lobster you would like, it's probably not a good time to tell them you don't really like lobster. 

We chose our dinner in the morning and then took a rain sprinkled drive up to Peggy's Cove. If Nova Scotia conjures up any image in your mind, besides lobster that is, this place is it. Peggy's Cove is a fishing community just outside of Halifax whose legend is a point of speculation. Some believe Peggy was the wife of an early settler, while others suspect that Peggy was in fact a young woman who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck many, many years ago. Either way, I was sure this was where my dinner swam free before being relocated against their will. 

We wandered across the somewhat slippery rocks opting against the paved path because that was just too easy. The air was biting considering I was far from appropriately dressed, and the sprinkle of rain was still falling. I squinted through the small hole that was left after tying my hood almost completely over my face in an attempt to stay warm. We explored a bit, and then peeked into the gift shop which was filled with artist's renderings of the lighthouse over and over and over again: lighthouse in the day, lighthouse in the night, lighthouse with water behind it, lighthouse with rocks behind it, lighthouse with a dog running on the rocks. I guessed the lighthouse was either really important here, or there was just nothing else to paint. Anyhow, it was time to head back for dinner.

We reached home, washed up, and met the table set with plates full and beautiful. I had almost forgotten the day's earlier swimming dinner. I no longer thought of the creature on my plate as Larry the Lobster; it was just dinner, and it was time to eat. 

I suppose I had also forgotten that I didn't like lobster, because it was delicious! Sure, I needed help to dismantle it and free the meat, but I am just inept like that when it comes to eating anything with an exoskeleton. Once freed, the meat was heavenly laced with a combination of melted butter, and some other lemony-peppery concoction. Everything was scrumptious, and I ate until I almost couldn't breathe (which is apparently something I do quite often). It was a new experience, but isn't that what travel is all about? If I found myself in Halifax/Nova Scotia again, I would never risk missing out on another lobster dinner.

Sorry Larry.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Road Trip: Why I Even Love the Garbage in N.Y.C

Aah...huge heaps of trash on the sidewalks...I am home. Well, not home where I live, or have ever lived, or have any family that lives, but home where at least part of my heart is. I am back in New York City. 

As we drove through the drizzle into the crazy pedestrian strewn streets of Manhattan, it was the first time I realized just how far we had come. It was also the first time I had ever maneuvered a vehicle in this city, and I would really like to never do it again if possible. Not that I couldn't manage, but these particular pedestrians are both fearless and unruly and I'd prefer not to have to strike anyone, by accident of course. 

I had one full day to spend with my city, so I was determined to make the best of it. Soho and I were going to have a wonderful day together! I left my road-trip companion to his sightseeing, and opted instead for a more shopping oriented day. After all, road-tripping can take a lot out of a girl, so I figured shopping would be an excellent way to refuel. I had a cream cheese slathered bagel from a tiny corner store and hopped the "N" train to Prince Street. I zipped out of the subway with all the confidence of a local, and climbed the the stairs to the street level leaving the slightly putrid, yet strangely familiar stench behind me. As the sun embraced me and several passersby brushed passed me in their flurry from here to there, I couldn't have been happier. It had been over a year since I was last in New York; we were finally reunited and it felt better than good. 

I shopped around enjoying crying over all of the things I couldn't buy (although I did allow myself a few treats) before stopping for the ubiquitous street hot dog. Now, I was by myself with arms full of shopping bags–ahem–I mean...you know...my hands were tied, so the eating of the hot dog presented a bit of a challenge. I found a ledge outside of a shop window and sat down carefully in my sundress. So what if the heavenly mustard/onion mixture was dripping into a little pile beneath me–if it doesn't get all over the place...right? The shuffling crowd faded away, and the honking cabs quieted, it was just me and the hot dog. I didn't even care that people were looking at me as though I had elephants dancing on my head. Hasn't anyone ever seen a girl in a dress thoroughly enjoy a hot dog on a ledge at the side of the road? Geeze.

A day in the city wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Central Park, so I went. I sat on the marble in front of FAO Schwarz and enjoyed a panini while waiting for my friend. We took a stroll through the park and ate roasted peanuts and watched a guy make a really large bubble and collect money from awed spectators. For the many times I've walked/biked/skipped through this park, I always see something new. It seemed as though I was filling every other moment with something to eat.

The evening ended with a pasta dinner we couldn't refuse at the home of our gracious host, before leaving to meet a friend at Joe's Pizza place for more dinner, only to realize that wasn't the pizza place I wanted my friend to try, so of course we had to stop for another slice at the other place. My stomach was literally on the verge of explosion, but when there's so much to eat and so little time, you do what you must. Jazz and drinks at  Groove Live Music Bar was the perfect place to let my overindulgence subside. A late night walk through Times Square was the cherry on top of a day well spent. I love this city. 

I can eat, I can shop, I can explore, I can wander, and I can experience culture every time I visit New York City, and there will still be a thousand and one things I have yet to discover. It's like one of those choose your own adventure books, only the book has no ending, and each path you choose is just as interesting as the last.

Sure the trash smells, and invites rats and vermin, and crowds already mobbed sidewalks, but when you are in love, you tend to overlook the bad things. The heaping bags of smelly garbage just blend right into the background of a scene in a city that I love, and remind me how happy I am to be here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Road Trip: More than Cheesesteak in Philly

I went to Philly for the cheesesteak. No, really, I did. 

Well, to anyone that knows me, going somewhere just to eat something wouldn't seem silly at all. My love affair with food is almost as critical as my love affair with travel. Almost

After all the talk of the rivalry between Pat's and Geno's, and the testaments from die-hard Philadelphians, what more could I do than visit and eat for myself?

We drove into the city at midday. The skies were gray and the weather was crisp, not a particularly beautiful day at all. As we parked across from Pat's King of Steaks, our first stop on the cheesesteak tour, Eagles fans sat eating, jerseys donned, and heckling the Green Bay fans that were in town for the game. This felt like a cool place to be.

As we stood in line, salivating for our next meal as the smell of steak wafted from the building, I practiced what I would say to the man that would take my order. Yes, there is a protocol for ordering a cheesesteak, and you aren't to mess it up. I would really have hated to look uncool here. I was ready, I had it down: I wanted a "Cheese Wit" meaning I would receive my cheesesteak with onions.

Whew, I passed. I ordered flawlessly and could quite possibly have tricked the gentleman into thinking I could have been a local (my ultimate goal in my travels). Ordinarily, this sandwich is not to be shared, but since we had a date with Geno's across the street immediately following this, we decided to split it. Sigh. Let me take a deep breath before explaining the beauty of this sandwich...*Inhale*...it was AMAZING. The sandwich was so hot that I had to suck in just to get enough air to cool down my mouth, but that didn't stop me. The cheese and the lightly grilled onions fused exquisitely with the perfectly seasoned, thinly sliced and chopped steak. I have never experienced Cheez-Whiz used to its full potential quite like this. I realized in that moment, that I had never really had a cheesesteak before today. It was my first time.

I felt unfaithful as we snuck over to Geno's to see which was really better, but after Pat's dazzled me so, anything else would have to be nothing short of incredible. I tried to keep an open mind.

We stood in line, surveyed the scene, and discovered that of course, and in true rival fashion, Geno's had their own ordering guidelines. This time I'd have to ask for a "Whiz Wit" to get the same sandwich. We split the sandwich in half as before and I took the first wary bite. Hmm. Maybe a second bite would give me a better feel for the sandwich. They were definitely different. Geno's meat was in slices rather than being chopped up, and there was a distinct taste of mustard in the sandwich. It was good, but it was no Pat's (sorry Geno's lovers). I felt unfulfilled and my despair sent me running back into the arms of Pat's.

I had to have another sandwich.

I wasn't sure how the gentleman at the window would feel, if he would know that I had been to Geno's, smell the shame of another steak on me. I thought it best to come clean. I told him of my infidelity and how after it all, I knew that his were the better steaks. He forgave me and was happy I had come to my senses. I was happy too.

It was difficult to leave Pat's and I knew he couldn't come with me. Ours was a love affair that was born and would be nurtured only in Philly, so I would have to return.

Independence Hall
We headed for Independence Square to add a little history into our day, and at least have something to say we did in Philadelphia besides eat cheesesteak. We stood in front of Independence Hall, the place where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Sometimes it is truly incredible to stand in a place and imagine all that occurred before you, right in that very location. It was especially interesting to be here as we had just seen the actual, original Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda of the National Archives in D.C. We crossed the street to the small building that houses the Liberty Bell. There is a miniature museum of sorts, and the Bell sits at the back, a glass wall behind it, looking out on Independence Hall. It was like we were playing connect the dots with American History, and the picture was starting to become clear. Well, we saw the Rocky statue, and then it was complete.

As we drove out of Philly, bellies and minds fulfilled, I could smell the cheesesteak still on me, and I dreamed of when I'd be back to have Pat's once more...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Road Trip: Fatigue and Roaches

Please tell me that was not a roach that just crawled up the wall.

I didn’t want to believe it, but it was a roach that just crawled up the wall. I very reluctantly climbed out of the bed, in my pajamas, to scope out the scene. I walked over to the side of the room where the roach had been and peeked around for more. I had the unfortunate pleasure of discovering one wedged between the doorframe, one beneath the table by the window, one underneath the air conditioning unit, and one in the closet. Then I stopped looking. It was time to go.

How did I manage to get ready for bed, put on my pajamas, and close my eyes without noticing a single roach, you ask? Well that is simple–the fatigue had reached a whole new level. I had already gotten to the point of bombarding my companion with the ridiculous inquiry of, “where are we again?” at least once each day. And on top of being mentally spent, we had just lugged all of our belongings up two flights of stairs because the elevator was nowhere to be found. Now, this is a routine we are quite accustomed to at this stage in our travels. Park car, take out bags, put bags in room, sleep, take everything out the next morning, move on. However, on this particular night, because the location of the hotel did not give us warm and fuzzy feelings of safety, we decided to take our bikes down from the rack on the car and into the room, just to be on the safe side. So yes, I rolled a full sized bicycle up two flights of stairs–one step at a time. It was so ridiculous and I was so tired, I burst into giggles in the middle of the staircase, making the moving of the bikes all the more difficult. Funny how delirious we can be when sleep-deprived. Needless to say, once I was finally in the room and settled under the covers, I did not want to move one inch. I had zero energy to notice roaches, but once they start scurrying around in plain sight, I have no choice. There was no way we could stay here for two nights.

We had finally arrived in Washington D.C.–well technically Arlington as D.C. hotels did not suit our very low budgets, and we were exhausted. We had spent the better part of the day exploring Monticello in Virginia and rediscovering what a multifaceted person Thomas Jefferson was. We walked in the footsteps of his former slaves and tried to imagine how life must have been for them. It was a history packed day, and after visiting D.C.’s famous Ben’s Chili Bowl upon arrival and devouring two orders of chili cheese fries, one chili dog, and a chili burger between us (the chili was that good), we now had food coma on top of fatigue. I just wanted to close my eyes.

We trudged back down the two flights of stairs and headed for the lobby hoping to get our money back and be on our way with minimal struggle. Oh, how naïve we were.

Exhibit A
We were met with a short, portly older woman who was ready for a fight. We explained the situation and she demanded we show her the roaches, because in all her 18 years of working here, she has never had such a complaint. She behaved as though we had planted our own roaches, and were trying to scam the hotel out of whatever measly money they might have had. Luckily, we had a handy photograph of Exhibit A, the roach in the doorframe, for evidence. “Well I can only refund you for tomorrow night because you have already used the room tonight,” she told us sternly. WHAT?! Now I was ready for battle. Unloading your belongings and spending thirty minutes in a room only to discover it had roaches, hardly counts as using it. I told her very nicely, that was completely unacceptable. She followed with, “Well, I couldn’t refund your room anyhow because you booked with Hotels.com and they have to cancel it, I will upgrade you to a new room.”

Exhibit B
We did not want any rooms in this place, but for the sake of sleeping and ending the battle, we accepted. We asked her what she was planning to do if we found roaches in the new room to which she barked, “Honey, if you do, you come and talk to me because that’s just not going to happen.” Okay. We headed up to the room and walked right past the previously elusive elevator. We inserted the key apprehensively, opened the door and found a new roach perched almost mockingly right on the wall above the bed. Second round of giggles. We marched back to the lobby, and now the male manager wanted to see Exhibit B, the roach above the bed, for himself. He walked back up with us, ended the life of the roach that was clearly there, apologized profusely, and told us that in his 13 years of working here, he had never had this problem. How crazy that they had their first ever large influx of roaches on the very night of our arrival.

By the time we reached the lobby, the woman had already processed our refund for the two nights. Hmm, she must have waved her magic wand and gotten the cancellation from Hotels.com just like that. We unloaded the car, took the bikes back down via elevator this time, and were gone.

Fighting to keep my eyes open, I entered the room in the new, cleaner, safer looking hotel, scanned it for roaches and only found one, dead, way in the corner beneath the safe. At least it was dead. Bags out again, then I am just going to close my eyes…

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Road Trip: Happiness in Daytona Beach

It was a far, far cry from the Everglades.

I laid on the smooth sand in the cozy Daytona Beach night air and let the warm water roll over me. It seemed worlds away from the hot tent, viscous mosquitoes, and the bathroom lizard of nights prior. As far as I was concerned, everything was perfect.

We had stumbled upon what felt like the greatest little place on Earth–or at least in Daytona Beach, the Sand Castle Motel. It was adorable. And it was a stone's throw from the beach, literally. The faded pastel yellow of the building was warm and inviting, and the sign at the front read: "Welcome Back." It was almost as though they already knew you would fall in love, and return to the Sand Castle one day.

The room had everything. Recliner chairs for watching tv, a full kitchen complete with dishes, and even a little dining table. But it was the toothbrush holder that got me. It was just like spending summers and Granny's when everything felt just right. Although I didn't put my toothbrush in it, because really, you just never know–but it still made me happy.

We stayed in the room just long enough to sort ourselves out, and then we grabbed a flashlight and headed for the beach. It was dark, but the ocean has a way of speaking to me, so it didn't matter that all I could see was my very next step and only with the help of the flashlight.

There aren't very many things that can beat a night on the beach. I let the gentle waves splash up against my belly as I looked out on the darkened ocean and took it all in. I could have stayed here forever. And the best part was that there was no place else I needed to be. We couldn’t help but relish in the perfection of the moment, the feeling of absolute freedom and be grateful all over again for having given ourselves the opportunity to experience it.

This is what I travel for, for these moments of absolute contentment, for the feeling of not wanting to be any other place than right where you are.  I travel for the thrill of being somewhere new, exploring something new, and experiencing something new. I live for this feeling and I am determined to capture it as often as I can. 

I understand that there will come a time for being practical and not running off on this trip and that (and according to my depleting bank account and concerned parents–that time should be very soon), but you can’t be perfectly practical all the time or life will fly past you on its way to see the world. You have to be a little bit crazy to just pick up and decide to live. You have to be a little bit crazy to take a month long road trip across the country without really having the funds to back it or any prospects of collecting the funds to repay it. I know I have my fair share of crazy, but everyone needs at least some of it. Without it, you are just trapped in practicality (which is okay if you like that kind of thing). It saddens me to hear people say, “I wish I could do that,” when I share my travel stories. I always wonder why they can’t. I don’t believe they are physically chained and bolted to their desks, although they may feel that way. I know that I don’t have anything that they do not, especially not money. Perhaps I have just reclaimed the key to the lock on my bolt and chain, and unlocked it. I think the only thing missing is a little courage; that little dose of crazy that is responsible for some of the more exciting moments in life. If there is something you want to do, do it before you get too old/tired/sick to enjoy it. 

Sure I might be a little broke, but everyone I know that is making money, would rather be at the beach right now. I am happy to have this life. I am happy to have given myself the freedom to live. I’ll keep my little bit broke and little bit crazy if it gets me to a beach in Daytona while my friends and family sit in the monotonous confines of their cubicles. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Not even for the snakeskin gladiator pumps at Nordstrom that refuse to stop calling my name…yes, beach is better than shoes. Beach is better than shoes…beach is…Sigh.

Daytona was a beautiful reminder of everything that is great about quitting your job...

*NOTE: There are no pictures because sometimes you just cannot capture a perfect moment. Especially at night without a fancy camera. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Road Trip: Camping in the Everglades

Yes, camping round two, in the Everglades. Hmm, ‘is camping in the Everglades during summer a good idea?’ you ask. No. No it isn’t.

When the park ranger said, “We have a slight mosquito problem,” that should have been red flag number one. Actually, when the woman at the Everglades welcome center responded quite haughtily to our inquiry about the campsite with a definitive, “I don’t camp,” that should have been red flag number one. So red flag number two then. Of course you would expect there to be some mosquitoes as you are in the Everglades after all, but if the ranger specifically mentions that there is a problem, there must be a problem.

Evidently, red flags do not faze us because we were fully prepared to make this a true camping experience, complete with a campfire and marshmallows. We went on what felt like a scavenger hunt for firewood. I guess no one really needs firewood in a humid, marshy area. The store employees gave us quite a few you-must-be-from-out-of-town looks as they repeatedly told us they didn’t have any. Scrap wood from Home Depot would have to do. We had a fantastic dip in the warm, clean waters of the beach on Marco Island, stopped for some yummy chicken from Publix, and headed back. It had been a great day.

And then it was time to camp. This time, in what must have been an effort to redeem himself for the last tent assembly, my companion had the tent up in 3 minutes and 10 seconds. We started the fire and sat out on nice chairs and waited to roast our marshmallows. And then the mosquitoes came. And they came out in full force. We ducked and slapped them off for about ten minutes before deciding to wait in the tent for the fire to get bigger. And then the rain came. And the mosquitoes came to the tent. We swatted and annihilated them with a pair of jeans since we had nothing else and then decided we could do without marshmallows. We were not leaving the tent again. Well, at least I wasn’t.

It was probably about 80 degrees inside the tent. We were equipped with a mesh tent to allow for breathing, but since the rain had arrived, we had to cover it with the waterproof shield. So it was hot. Strange bubbling sounds started coming from the swampy pond behind the tent and I was sure it was the sound of alligators crawling out of the water and straight for us. I had the car keys in hand and an escape route planned if I needed to flee. I was scared.

But it was the buzzing that killed me. I have officially decided that the maddening and incessant buzzing of flying creatures is one of the most terrible sounds in existence. The mosquitos/bugs/dragonflies or whatever was lurking around in the muggy night refused to stop buzzing! I kept fanning them from my ears as I was somewhere between sleep and wake, only to realize once the buzzing had completely woken me up, that it was coming from outside the tent. There was nothing I could do. In a quick effort to prevent me from going insane, my camping companion suggested I listen to my ipod. Good idea. The soothing sounds of steel drums replaced the ridiculous buzzing and I didn’t go completely out of my mind. Although, I am sure I will have nightmares about the buzzing.

For once, I wanted morning to come quickly, but it decided to take its sweet time. When it finally arrived at 6:30 am, I was ready. Ready to be done with this “adventure.” I took out my cutest undergarments and my cutest outfit and headed to the showers (which were surprisingly the best part of the whole camping experience–minus the lizard that was keeping me company). I wanted to feel as far away from the hot, fatigued, mosquito-bitten, and overall disgusting feeling that I awoke with. So, if cute clothes would help me get there, it was worth a try. I took a long, lovely, hot shower, got dressed and was feeling great. As I headed to the mirror to fix up my hair, I was horrified to discover seven huge red splotches from mosquito bites on my face! I looked ridiculous! Now, instead of looking nice and feeling good, I looked like some kind of glamorized freak with a disease on her face! Sigh. What’s a girl to do? At least we were finally leaving; no more Everglades for me. But it really was not a cute look for heading to Miami...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Road Trip: What I've Learned in a Week

It’s been one week on the road. In the greater scheme of a month long road trip, one week is not much. But when considering that we have been traveling non-stop for one week, covered 10 states 13 cities, and packed in tons of activities, it seems like a lot. There have been great places and weird places, tedious drives and pleasant drives and lots of lessons learned in between. This is what road travel has taught me in one week:

The Lorraine Motel
Some places cannot be fully understood unless you are there. You cannot always live vicariously through someone else, through travel books, through the travel channel, or through this blog (J). The imposing nature of the Grand Canyon, or the surreal feeling of standing where Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, cannot move you the way it should if you are not there.

It’s not camping without s’mores. Yes, we set up camp, slept in tent, and used questionable toilets buried in the forest, but it still didn’t feel like camping without the campfire and the s’mores. Must at least bring marshmallows next time.

GPS doesn’t know everything. Although it is a genius invention and has for the most part made things much easier, sometimes a GPS just needs some human practical reasoning. It doesn’t always know when roads are closed and just can’t admit when it’s wrong. As old school as it may seem, road maps and atlases are still handy.

Rotten avocadoes have a really, really foul smell. If you are going to pack avocados, fruit, or anything perishable in your bag of road snacks, be sure to keep them in your main line of sight. Forgetting any of these items in the sweltering hot car for five days will not bode well for the smell inside the car. It is actually pretty revolting.

Pandora is the greatest musical invention ever. It is better than two full ipods. It is better than an old cd collection. It is better than your road trip companion trying to sing to you. It has everything you have ever wanted, and some things you didn’t even know you wanted. It is almost like Pandora knows you, knows your innermost favorite music. I’m only sorry it took me four days and lots of repeat songs to have this epiphany.

Beignets should be sold everywhere. Period.

Not every Travel Channel endorsed restaurant has good food. The food always looks delicious when we see Adam devouring it on Man V. Food, or Anthony enjoying it in style on No Reservations. But some places just don’t live up to the hype. It helps to check out other reviews before going on an all out Travel Channel food tour.

Some pet peeves and small annoyances are better left unmentioned. If you are going to be on the road, especially for any length of time, you cannot fuss about everything. If the trivial frustration is not going to matter in ten minutes, don’t say anything at all. I suppose I should have already known this from the, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ mantra, but sometimes things have to be relearned. 

A great companion makes ALL the difference. If they keep you fed, are always mindful of your safety, and enjoy similar activities to you, you’re in business. It also helps if they already know you well and like you anyway.

*NOTE: This was written at the one week mark, but two nights sans any semblance of wifi delayed the post)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Road Trip: For the Love of the Music

She just wanted to hear the music.

Dressed in a cap and sweats with a rag over her shoulder, the littlest old lady surfaced from the ‘Employees Only’ section somewhere at the back of the room. She appeared to have just finished, or been in the process of cleaning something. She strolled quietly over to the piano on the stage and took a seat.

We had stumbled upon the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park by chance as we left the French Market and the intense mugginess of the day. The place was completely void of visitors but filled with an abundance of free information on the history of jazz in New Orleans. And it was air-conditioned.

We perused the 'Jazz Gumbo,' an interactive platform detailing the medley of instruments that make up a jazz band, and how each sound is relevant. I was able to get a taste of the inner workings of the music. Just as I pressed the button for saxophone, Fats Domino instead replaced the sample music I was hearing. I rounded the corner to see where the powerful sound was coming from, and it was her. The little old lady had sat down to play and a beautiful outpouring of jazz came through her fingertips. She was great.

We took a seat to enjoy this now free concert at the free venue with the free cool air. We like free. She played with such focus that she never even noticed her audience until we clapped at the end. We were irrelevant. She was just playing for the love of the music.

We thanked her for playing and she was embarrassed for having messed up. We assured her that we hadn’t even noticed, because we really hadn’t. She told us that when she tries to play Fats, sometimes she gets him and sometimes she doesn’t, almost like the music either comes to her or not. She said that sometimes she can only remember how to play half of a song and can't finish the rest. Old age has caught her, but her love of the music is undying. She was excited just to be talking about it. As we got ready to leave, she smiled at us in all of her toothless glory and said: “Y’all should come back on Saturdays. That’s when the big band comes and they really tears it up.”

If only we were going to be here longer than 24 hours.

Great music filled the rest of our day and evening as a live band played while we enjoyed a snack at Café Du Monde, and then later when we hit Bourbon Street to sample the N’awlins night life. A band of about ten or so young men played the best jazz I have truly ever heard live in my life. They played right on the corner of the street to an audience of passersby and some loyal supporters. It was awesome.

Traveling up Bourbon Street can be kind of a sensory overload. There are all kinds of different things going on all over the place, some much crazier than others. Your evening on Bourbon Street can be spent in a drunken stupor sipping hand grenades or fish bowls 
Maison Bourbon
(local drinks), booty shaking on the dance floor, and engaging in whatever other vices strike your fancy. Or, you can spend a quiet evening enjoying some of the best jazz or blues around. I was in a classy mood, so of course, I opted out of the booty shaking and instead wandered into Maison Bourbon and took a seat. Dedicated the preservation of jazz, this place was a quiet sanctuary from the crazed behavior taking place outside its walls. The jazz was as sophisticated as the men playing it in their shirts and ties. It was nice to sample different ends of the musical spectrum in the French Quarter. Maybe I’ll try the booty shaking next time.

New Orleans is truly alive with music. It will make you want to dance, sing, and be a musician (or date one) all at the same time. Maybe I’ll find my musician in the days ahead…

Friday, September 3, 2010

Road Trip: I am Tired!

The driving is exhausting. Period. And while the thrill of passing through one place to the next and having a new adventure each day is really great, I'm tired!

Most of each day is spent driving, only to arrive at a place in the evening, grab something to eat, and find a place to sleep. Then it's early to rise, pack in the sightseeing, and get on the road and drive. Then drive, drive, and drive some more. It would be one thing if we were passing by beautiful scenery and coming across great stopping points for photo-ops, or cute roadside cafés, but we are not. Instead, we are driving on roads where all you can see to either side of you is nothing (or red rocks in the Southwest). 

The cars on the road are fairly sparse and you are usually sandwiched between a truck or three. And to make matters worse, when driving at night, everyone wants to play the bright lights game. Now, this is a very delicate matter. You must turn off your bright lights at precisely the right moment or else you are in trouble. Accidentally forget to turn them off, and the driver will flash you repeatedly with blindingly bright lights. Turn them off too late and you may still get flashed. Turn them off too early and the oncoming driver might think you never turned them off because your regular lights are bright enough, and flash you anyway! We spent the better part of the drive trying to find just the right time to turn off the bright lights and were met with flashes, honks, and only the occasional polite driver that did nothing. It seems the best bet is to turn them off just as you see your opponent turn off their own. Oh the things you learn on a road trip.

And the music has run out. You would think between two ipods filled with songs, that you could get pretty far without hearing much twice. But 2,400 miles later, I am hearing repeats. I have actually had moments of longing for my old cd collection, just to get a little variety. 

Some days the food is really tasty and I am saddened that I must leave it behind, and some days we eat nasty pre-made burgers from gas station cafés if we don't get the timing right. My camera dies on a regular basis and I am forced to post blogs if and whenever I can because in these desolate dead zones, I have no idea when my next internet fix will be. And sometimes when I am faced with the option of going out on the town after a long day of driving/sightseeing/driving, I almost, just almost, want to say no, curl up in my pajamas, and close my eyes. 

But this is the greatest adventure. I have seen more of my own country in the last three days than I have seen in the last three years–or really ever. I have experienced a million wonderful (and strange) things that I would never otherwise be discovering. So, I will take my copious amounts of driving, various nasty burgers, and severe lack of sleep any day. I can sleep when I get home. Or maybe on the beach in Florida...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Road Trip: Grand Canyon Unlit and Illuminated

Never arrive at a campsite at night, especially for your first visit, and especially if you have any inclination towards wimpy-ness.

It was way too dark. And it was cold. All we could see were shadows of the looming forest trees, the barely discernable street signs and the occasional brave (or slightly crazy) person headed into the blackened forest for a nighttime shower. I was just a little bit leery.

Okay, time to set up. We shone the headlights toward our lot and took down the camping gear. Well, when I say “we” I really mean my much more savvy camping companion, who very confidently claimed that he could assemble the tent with his eyes closed. Don’t need my help? Great, no argument here. I’ll just sit patiently in the warm safety of the car, and write. Lost in my thoughts and words, I hardly noticed when ten minutes later the tent was still in a flat pile on the ground. Maybe I should be helping…the consideration of lending a hand vanished as quickly as it appeared when I saw an unidentified flying creature breeze by the windshield. I’m sure he can figure it out on his own.

He eventually got it, lined it with sleeping pads, bags, and warm blankets. After a quick cup of hot tea courtesy of Jetboil (the greatest camping invention of all time) it was time for bed. Thankfully, the pure exhaustion of the day kept my wimpy fears at bay and I fell asleep.

The morning came faster than I wanted it to, but since we had missed the sunset over the Canyon last night, we had to catch the sunrise. So at 5:30 am (I hope this ridiculously early rising is not becoming a habit) we loaded up and headed for the nearest Canyon viewpoint. We were just a tiny bit late for sunrise–it had kind of already risen–but it didn’t matter.


Awestruck would not do justice to the feeling I had when the Grand Canyon first came into view. This natural wonder is beyond amazing. Its vastness is something that cannot be explained or comprehended unless you are standing at the Canyon’s mercy on your own two feet. It was bigger, grander, and more incredible than I could have ever imagined. As I stood at an unnerving point to pose for photos, I was literally and figuratively at the edge of life. I had never felt more alive–or freaked out–but I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

We took a bike ride around the rim in the 56-degree morning air. It was cold and the air was thin, so I didn’t last long before taking a much needed food break. A peek into the Hopi house to look at the beautiful, hand-made Native American treasures, and a full tummy later, it was time to head back. The difference between the Grand Canyon unlit in the starry night and illuminated in the morning sun was stark. Its glory is much better appreciated in the safety of daylight. It is sad to leave this place knowing that we have barely scratched the surface, but our time was well spent. I am sure the power of this Grand Canyon will call me again one day and I will come running. But for now, on to New Mexico…

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Road Trip: The Adventure Begins

I know I am a little bit crazy. But what can I say? I am living with the travel bug and when travel calls, the only way I know is to answer.  I just wish travel just didn't have to call at 5 a.m.  It's really not a time for waking up, ever. It should be reserved solely for returning home to begin sleeping post party and late night eats, not for beginning the day. But there is a long way to travel and plenty to see, so early it is. I am ready to go.

Of course, we must say our goodbyes, eat a good breakfast, and be sure the car is packed with everything we could possibly ever need. Our families wouldn't have it any other way. Five hours, a yummy breakfast, a stack of extra maps, and a wealth of motherly forewarnings later, the open road and I are officially one.

It's almost like we were meant to be together, like the road has been wondering where I've been all its life. I am actually starting to wonder that myself. The sense of complete and utter, untainted freedom has been hiding on the Interstates all this time and no one ever told me. I am immune to scheduled flight times, tour plans, or outlined destinations, and I can pack as many shoes as I like. I am free. This road is mine to map and I love it. I am fully prepared to channel my inner Audrey Hepburn, sunglasses donned and scarf fluttering in the hot Southwestern breeze...though I suppose it will be slightly different since we are missing the convertible. Oh well. We made it, we are finally here. After some minor hurdles, and explanations for yet another trip, this adventure has begun.

Hoover Dam!
I watched as the cities slowly faded into nothingness as we traveled farther from home and closer to the unfamiliar. California slowly melded into Arizona and Arizona into Nevada as we head for the Grand Canyon. We were on a roll. Aside from a quick check point in Arizona where we were "randomly" stopped (who knows...we could very possibly have had a tiny immigrant packed into our overhead cargo box) the ride was uninterrupted. We jumped out of the car at the side of the freeway to take a picture at the Arizona state welcome sign. We stopped again for the Nevada one. Wait...Nevada? That doesn't seem like where we should be...Ooh the Hoover Dam? Let's go! What's a road trip without a little rerouting anyway? And we get to see the Hoover Dam!

Too bad the little rerouting was more like a huge two-hours-out-of-the-way rerouting! It's okay, we are close to the Grand Canyon, right? No? Okay, so maybe we are getting there a little late, but we will get there, set up camp, and be fine. It is getting a little dark though...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

From an Empty Room to the Open Road

Every noise I make echoes off the empty walls in this now foreign place that was once my beloved bedroom. Four things hang in my closet, and the last of the bags and boxes wait to be loaded into my car (help?) I guess it's really over. After five wonderful years, my apartment, roommate, and I are separating.

It feels like a divorce, the end of an era. Was this movie yours or mine? You can keep the cheese grater, I'll take the curtains. It all sounds silly when we stop and listen to ourselves. We have grown up together in this apartment, my roommate and I, and now we couldn't be headed down more divergent paths. Hers to stability and mine to the unmapped, open road. An incredible cross country road-trip lies between my painful departure from this apartment and my somewhat vague future. I should at least be excited for the trip. 

The sight of my packed bag, roadmap, and notebook should awaken the familiar and endlessly sought after rush of excitement that travel usually brings to me. But it is different this time. I don't just have one bag packed, they are all packed. When I return "home" I cannot simply place everything neatly back into its designated area and settle back into life. "Home" will no longer be the old apartment with the leaky faucet and the beautiful mountain views that I so adore. Instead, my life will hang somewhere between a storage unit and my parent's garage. Sigh. The power of this travel bug never ceases to amaze me. It has slowly driven me out of my cubicle, out of my apartment, and out of my life as I thought I knew it.

But I am forging my own path. It may not be the one anyone, including me, expected it to be, but it is my path. It will be filled with happy times and sad times, overworked and underworked times, and hopefully sprinkled with lots of travel. I will make it to my destination, but I am stopping to smell the roses, and the tulips, and the daisies, and...anyway, I am going to enjoy this journey that is my life.

Au revoir, my sad and empty room. The open road is calling me, so I'm answering. Wish me luck...

Monday, August 16, 2010

8 Things to Love About Toronto

From the Exhibit "Late News" by
Dan Perjovschi at the R.O.M.
Toronto, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

1. Cultural Diversity. Toronto has it all. You can "travel" across continents without ever leaving the city! There are so many areas and neighborhoods where you can find people, culture, and delicious food from all over the world. There is something for everyone here. This portion of Dan Perjovschi's "Late News" Exhibit captures it best; there are so many elements that make up greater Toronto, and to me, that's the beauty of the cityPlus, I really love to eat. 

2. Ample Places to Meet People. You can meet people everywhere here, and for young singles this is of vital importance! There are people to be met on public transportation, while walking around the city, on the streets after clubs and pubs close when everyone is out at the same time, and even en route to emergencies (more on this later). Not being holed up in your car and actually being out in the world can make a big difference. In Los Angeles, people drive everywhere. No one thing is that close to another, making for very little outside-of-your-car time. Unless of course you are trying out the latest diet, then you might go sans vehicle to do some walking on your lunch break, or take your tiny dog out in the morning. But there aren't many people to meet doing either of those two things.

3. The TTC. Oh, the Toronto Transit Commission. They can get you around the city quite easily with the convenient combination of subway, bus, street car, and rail car. And they have gone to the trouble of having each mode in collaboration so that you only pay one fare to get to/from your destination whether you use one, or all four different modes. So thoughtful.

View from Panorama
4. Panorama Bar/Restaurant/Lounge. A supreme view from the 51st floor, a full bar, tasty edibles, and the occasional proposal (yes, I actually did see one–the romance in the air is thick all the way up here!) What more do you need?

5. Cute Firefighter Boy. As two fire trucks sped down Bloor Street, sirens blaring, I waited at the crosswalk for them to pass. A third fire truck slowed to a safe crawl, and the driver (also known as cute firefighter boy) glanced in my direction, looked back at the road, then turned back to smile and wave. En route to a potential emergency! I felt like a giddy teenage girl at a concert. Sure, I will never see him again, and sure most visitors to Toronto are not likely to encounter him either, but he represents the dating potential in this city, and reinforces Reason #2 that there are ample places to meet people!

6. Caribana. As the largest Caribbean festival in North America, people travel into Toronto from all over the world to be a part of this humongous party cultural celebration. Being of Caribbean heritage myself, it is nice to catch a glimpse of home even when you are far away from it. But let's be clear, even if you are not Caribbean, don't know anyone who is Caribbean, and/or have never even visited the Caribbean, you can't beat the fun to be had at this festival. You just have to be ready for it...

7. Proximity to NYC. New York City is near and dear to my heart, so being just an hour and a half's flight away from everything that I love is a beautiful thing. It is convenient to be so close to New York. Besides, who knows when you'll have to see a Broadway show or update your fall wardrobe?

8. Ronaldo Billboard. Okay, so maybe this isn't a legitimate reason to love Toronto, but we don't have this at home and it's kind of a pretty picture. Plus, it's 8 things I love about Toronto, so it makes the list.

There's a little bit of everything in Toronto, and any place that fosters eating, entertainment, and culture is just about perfect for me. Now, if only it were warm all year round...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"It's a Pity We Have to Work"

The Toronto skyline faded behind us as our tour boat, the Harbour Star, motored out from Queen's Quay. I had anticipated this ride to be a bit over-touristy, but it was kind of fantastic. A very animated young redhead narrated the tour. She spoke about the history and the current happenings in and around the harbour and the islands. On such a hot summer day, it was hard to imagine any part of this harbour being frozen over as she had mentioned. We learned of the rivalries between the local yacht clubs (oh, life gets so complicated sometimes...) and even got to witness children scrambling to keep their sailboats upright during lessons from the National Yacht Club's Junior Sailing School; so cute...and kind of funny. There were great views of everything from here, but get in line early to avoid elbowing fanny-packers for a chance to sit outside.

I sat inside the boat, chin resting on my folded arms (that were being slightly scalded by the sun, but oh well) and just gazed out the window as the breeze ruffled my hair. The boat was quiet. The animated redhead had stopped speaking and the original Dusty Springfield version of The Look of Love gently caressed my ears. We coasted past swans frolicking on the bank, a family splashing about in the water, and a mass of orange clad children flying kites. Obviously appreciating the serenity, a very wise woman (yes mom, that's you) turned to me and said, "There's so much life has to offer, it's a pity people have to work." Hmm. I pondered this profound statement. It was indeed a pity...but how did it come to be this way?

There was only one conclusion–society must have been designed incorrectly. I mean, who decided we should work for most of our lives, eventually retire at some old age, and only then take the time to live and play? Who decided that work should take up most of your day, most of your week, and most of your life? And who decided that doing something you love would be next to the most impossible way to make a living, so instead you are more likely to spend this work portion of your life doing something you could really care less about? And most importantly, who invented the heinous, torture device that we have come to know as a cubicle?! No. Life was not meant to be lived this way. There must have been some kind of mistake. Maybe there will be a recall on this faulty life design, and they will come out with a new and improved version. They are probably working out the details now. For now, I am content to forge my own path (because I can't wait around forever). Live and play will be at the forefront of my design, with work spliced in accordingly. Or, ideally, I will find the perfect fusion of live-play-work and be able to patent my design and sell it. We'll see what happens. In the mean time, refuse to accept the existing design; there is so much life has to offer.

Perhaps one day "they" will issue a public apology.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Muddling Through Marrakech

Oh, Morocco. Your first trip, first hours, first minutes there can be packed with all sorts of adventure. Check out my first published article "Muddling Through Marrakech" over at Travelmag. Travelmag has a wealth of exciting travel stories from real, independent travelers with great experiences to share.

From the magazine's editor, "Travelmag correspondents travel well beyond the guidebook routes, illuminating little-known corners of the globe and, occasionally, revealing a bit about themselves as well."

This travel writing thing isn't impossible, you just have to start somewhere. Yay!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love Where You Live

Nice of him to pose for me :)
Home is where the heart is...right? Well what if your heart is all over the world? Then would home be wherever your stuff is? Maybe you don't have stuff, or are traveling with all of it. So would home be where your family lives? Sigh. Who knows. I suspect I have not found home yet; haven't found one place where my heart is. But I fear that is an impossible feat, as I have dispersed little fractions of my heart on six different continents.

As I traversed the streets of Toronto and the Daniels signage blatantly bawled my name, I had a profound realization: I don't love where I live.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a reflection on Los Angeles (so die-hard Angelenos, don't get all riled up). Los Angeles is a beautiful city for the most part. There is nothing wrong with it. There is just something wrong with me in L.A. I have no spunk, no excitement, no free spiritedness when I am "home." I don't party with random strangers I can't communicate with. I don't try unfamiliar fruits from unfamiliar trees in the middle of the jungle. I don't scale imposing mountain peaks at exceedingly high altitudes–okay, maybe I don't do that anywhere, but that's beside the point. Maybe I'd consider it if I was somewhere else. Wanderlust is a funny thing that way, it can really take over your life, make you do things you've never done and go places you've never been. I cannot love this place with all my heart because there is so much more in the world to love, and I want to go love it.

I want my return flights to land in a place that excites me as much as the one I have just departed from. I want every day, or at least most days, to be filled with the adventure that travel and new experiences bring. I want to be free and fun and happy all the time. I want to love where I live. And although this city where my stuff and my family are will by some definition remain "home" for the time, I don't always have to live here.

Conclusion: You must love where you live and be your best self in that place. And if you can't, then live everywhere; wander this land and find "home" wherever you choose to leave your heart.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maple Syrup and Hockey, eh?

I never thought Canada was my type.

Or at least I didn't think we would hit it off like we did. I mean, I always figured it would be nice, but nice in that kind of 'we could be friends way,' not the 'I want to spend every waking moment in your presence kind.'

It is a love affair, my relationship with travel–some countries will set my pulse racing with excitement, while others draw lukewarm feelings, no butterflies in my stomach.

But you can never really know a place until you visit it, go out at least once.

That seemingly quiet and simple country could turn out to be packed with all kinds of colorful delights and adventures once you get to know it; things you might never have otherwise discovered.

That was Toronto.

The warm summer days were filled with sights and culture, and the equally warm nights with an array of worldly cuisine and cozy bars.

A quick subway ride brought me into Mirvish Village one particular evening. Trees partially camouflaged the charming, old-fashioned buildings. There was something comfortably quiet about this place even though the restaurants were packed and the bars filled.

We ventured to the end of the street and took a seat on the patio of the Victory Café. The wooden, almost picnic-like tables gave the place a relaxed feel. It really was cozy. In my world, cozy usually depends on how nice the designer couches and chairs are in the place. But this was a different kind of cozy, the company also made it that way.

We ended up chatting with the groups of people on either side of us (sure it was after a couple of shared beers by each party, but so what?)

Marcus, a sweet-faced, glasses clad guy to my right was especially friendly. We fell into deep conversation about life, politics, and misconceptions as they exist both in Canada and the United States.

Being a traveler himself and having experienced other places, he tells me, "I really do love it here, Canadians are just nice people. We actually get made fun of by the States for being so nice."

I was ashamed to admit I had heard a joke (or two...) of that nature.

Marcus's chipper friend decided to pipe in when he heard I lived in California. In all seriousness and enthusiasm, he turned to me and said, "California? So do you hang out at Venice Beach and go rollerblading?"

I looked back at him with the same seriousness and enthusiasm and said, "Do you love maple syrup and play hockey?"


I didn't think so. We both laughed when he realized the silliness of his comment and the mockery in mine.

Sure, there are Californians that go to Venice and rollerblade, and I am sure there are Canadians that love maple syrup and play hockey. But not everyone does.

Travel is the most supreme education. I shudder to imagine the things we would run around thinking of places and people if we were never to experience them and learn that there is so much more than what little we might know.

Marcus ended the evening by saying, "It was nice chatting, eh?" I smiled and said yes. He smiled back and said, "Yes, we really do say eh."

While some things might be true, there's way more to this place than maple syrup and hockey.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Coolest. Plane. Ever.

I am flying.

I am sitting in the comfort of my fancy, black leather seat, laptop open, and writing this blog.

I arrived at the airport a few hours earlier for the second time in a month. I know, I know, I love this place. Besides, after such a long separation from travel we have a lot of catching up to do.

I walked into Terminal 3 of Los Angeles Airport to meet a scene quite unlike that of last month's. There were flowers in vases, fancy carpets, and cute pink mood lighting. Beyonce's Sweet Dreams was playing in the background. Everyone was young and attractive.

Was this a party? Did I make a wrong turn and end up in some swanky lounge?

My confused thoughts were interrupted by a soft and courteous voice. "Where are you traveling tonight?" he asked, then escorted us to exactly where we needed to be. I guess I didn't make a wrong turn after all–this was flight check-in for Virgin America.

I couldn't believe it.

Everything was perfect. There were no long lines, no broken kiosks, no people rolling luggage over my feet, no screaming babies; none of it.

Even the bag tags were cute. Just under my name, the tag had a line for 'Favorite Thing.' My favorite thing?! How special that the luggage tag and its affiliates want to get to know me!

I had barely enough time to write names on three luggage tags, and it was my turn to check in.  The attendant was friendly, pleasant, and efficient (yes, I might not believe it either if I didn't witness it first hand). This must be some sort of alternate universe; one where no one needs to curse. She handed me a neat little boarding card with just the important information on it, and small enough to fit right into my passport/pocket/other convenient location.

And the coolness didn't stop there. The headphones were pink, the flight crew was hip, and the captain proposed to his girlfriend. Yes–a full on proposal, ring, one knee, tears, kissing, clapping and all–right in the middle of his captain's welcome speech. It was beautiful.

This plane is amazing.

I can even shop from the slick screen in front of me! Seat-to-seat chat?! Wow, this would be perfect for sending a message to the cute guy/girl seated ten rows ahead, provided that you scoped out their EXACT seat number. It would not be nice to mistakenly send your flirtations to the old man snoring, mouth agape, in the seat next to them.

But there's really just not that much excitement in my life, so I sent a message to my mother. In the seat next to me. Sigh. Well, at least there is no annoying person near me making audible reactions to their reading. But that may just be because I am well acquainted with both of the passengers in my row, and there is no social etiquette preventing me from looking over and saying, "Shhh!"

This is how flying should always be.

And for those of you lucky enough to have flown Virgin before, please excuse my naiveté, it was only my first time. But seriously–Coolest. Plane. Ever.

Friday, July 16, 2010


It's over? Am I really leaving all this behind? 

Every time I leave a country it feels like a break up. Knowing that for now, this country and I can't be together brings about an overwhelming sense of sadness. 

I feel the pain of separation creeping up on me as the plane leaves my newest love behind. I am overrun with thoughts of how we can rebuild our love–of how quickly I can get back to rekindle this relationship. 

The first week back home is miserable. All I can think about is that country. All I can talk about is that country. I miss the country terribly; my lost love. 

Eventually, the wound heals and I am ready to love again. 

But I know it is only a matter of time before I fall once more, and the next country is left to pick up the pieces. 

I am forever being unfaithful to my own country. I am heartbroken, but for now I must say ciao to it all. 

First and foremost, mallorcas at La Bombonera, for all your sweet and savory deliciousness, you will be severely missed. Refreshing and tropical humidity, I know it sounds crazy, but I love you. Concalma, I have a beautiful bag to take home to remind me of you, but I am sad to leave the 'take it easy' attitude of your brand and your people behind. Medalla, I won't know what to drink without you. And last but not least, ciao to my kayaking boatsmen, your strength and beauty will stay with me forever. 


Puerto Rico, te amo. This is not the end. You have too much beauty left unseen, too much delight left untasted, and too many beautiful people left unmet. 

I promise I will return to you; muy pronto. Ciao...
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