Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Date With My Passport

It's that time of year again.

Men are roaming the streets carrying tiny, teal bags that are sure to spell delight. Heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates are out in full force. Everything in the United States has turned red and pink. And people are freaking out about what they are going to do, where they are going to do it, and what gift they are going to rack their brains over for Valentine's Day.

Me? I have a very, very hot date, and I am counting the minutes until we are together.

Slim, sleek, and seasoned, my date is worldly in every sense of the word. When schedules and funds permit, my date takes me to places beyond my wildest imagination and never fails to impress. Without my date my beloved travel would be just a distant dream, and without me, my date would suffer much the same fate. We fit perfectly together; we need each other.

Where did I find this apple of my eye you ask? Well it was brought to me by none other than the good old United States by way of my wonderful and wise parents. You see, though I was just two months old, my parents knew the one thing that would make my new life complete: a passport. It is never too soon to begin a love affair.

My passport and I have something very special planned this Valentine's Day. We are headed to Trinidad & Tobago for some sweet revelry as the Carnival season is well underway. There had previously been some tension as we hadn't been going out much (7 months and 23 days to be exact, but who's counting?) but we've since reconciled. I expect this trip will rekindle the flame. Some quality together time was long overdue; it is going to be a holiday to remember.

This Valentine's Day I am watching romance bloom and wilt as some friends walk into new relationships and others walk out of existing ones. It is both a happy time and a sad time, but my passport and I remain unfazed. We know what we have and my passport isn't going anywhere, it belongs to me forever.

Sure, I could be enjoying a culinary feast over candlelight, but I'd trade that for a $5.00 snack pack and airplane cabin lighting if I knew adventure was on the other side. This Valentine's Day is for travel, and I couldn't be more in love.

T&T here I come!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Road Trip: The Best & Worst of It

We spent 33 days on the road, posed for pictures in front of 33 state signs, visited 44 cities, and drove over 11,000 miles! The adventures were endless and each day held something different. The horizons before us changed colors and shapes as desert turned to badlands and farms turned to cities. Every place was new; every day was new.

With all that newness came a lot of great discoveries and also some that I could probably have done without. Here are some of the best and worst of our days on the open road:

Best Meal: It's hard to decide considering all of the yummy eats we had around the country. One of my favorites was chili cheese fries at Ben's Chili Bowl in D.C. Oh, and the poutine in Montréal. Definitely the poutine. I still dream about it from time to time.

Worst Meal: Well, aside from the probably-sitting-there-all-day awful gas station burgers which don't really count, the worst was probably the chicken fried steak we ate in San Antonio. The place claimed to have the 'best chicken fried steak in town' and was a Man v. Food locale no less. Proof that not every Travel Channel endorsed restaurant has good food

Best Drive: Through Montana, hands down. The creeks, the trees, everything was beautiful. 

Worst Drive: The seemingly endless drive across Texas on a two lane highway at night. No street lights, no other cars, just the ridiculous occurrence of the bright lights game between you and the Mack trucks. 

Best Hotel: The Sand Castle Motel in Daytona Beach, FL. It was the sweetest little place ever and was just steps from the beach. And the beach was beautiful in an I-can't-stay-away-from-it kind of way. Staying there felt like being at home which was a much needed reprieve from such large quantities of road travel. I would trade the big, fancy hotels of Daytona for this little treasure any day. Plus the room was sans roaches. 

Worst Hotel: The one with the most roaches

Biggest Surprise: Striking gold! I never thought I'd pan for gold, or visit South Dakota for that matter, but I found some! Taking in the staggering faces of our forefathers at Mt. Rushmore was an added bonus.

Biggest Disappointment: Not getting to camp at Yosemite. Actually, no that was a relief, let's be real. If this road trip has taught me anything, it's that camping is not for me

Greatest Moment: Standing at the mercy of the Grand Canyon, almost at the edge of life. It was one of those moments you stop in awe of the wonders of this world.

Strangest Moment: Being blocked by four very large Bison in the pitch-black darkness of night while driving into Yellowstone. The only thing crazier would have been actually seeing Yogi Bear.

Coolest City: N'awlins! I don't think you can narrow it down to one thing that makes this city so cool. It just is. You can't beat the music, can't beat the food, and can't beat the madness that is Bourbon Street (even when it isn't Mardi Gras!)

Weirdest City: Roswell. I think they have over-capitalized on the whole alien thing. Or maybe aliens really do live there and have run out all the humans...which would explain the eerie and deserted feel of the place... 

Favorite Thing: The freedom of the road. Forging my own path and discovering the undiscovered that lay before me. There is something truly exhilarating about waking up to something new each day. 

Least Favorite Thing: The price I paid for all of that freedom. I have never been more exhausted  in my entire life.

Thing I'll Never Forget: The hospitality of all the friends and family that took us in and fed us along our journey. They brought us back to life before sending us back to our unlimited adventures. It was the kind of kindness that is not easily forgotten. 

Things I'd Like to Forget: The 90+ gas station restrooms that I was forced to use.

We visited 30 U.S. National Historical Landmarks, ate at 54 restaurants and slept in 15 different beds. It was wild, crazy, and fantastic, but when it was time to go home, I was ready. 

And home never felt so sweet.

I posted a whopping total of 8 blogs while actually on the road, but I'll blame infrequent wifi and exhaustion for my lack of productivity. It has officially taken me 5 1/2 months to blog about 33 days of travel, but the adventure has finally come to an end. My days on the road are over for now, but only to be replaced by air travel, because the travel must go on.

Besides, how long can a travel bug sufferer really stay home before the itch becomes slightly unbearable...?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Road Trip: Surprise, Montana is Lovely!

Everything about Montana was a surprise. It was a surprise that we ended up driving through it as it was never on the original route plan, and it was a surprise that I kind of fell in love with it. I mean, let's be honest, it just isn't one of those states most people even think of very often. After all, the only thing I knew about Montana was that it is Big Sky Country, whatever that entailed, I had no idea.

We drove west through the state and passed a man selling handmade wooden stools at the side of the road. We stopped to check out his crafts and inquire prices and such. He also had antlers and various wilderness related art pieces. The actual animal antlers prompted my companion to ask the gentleman whether he hunts the animals himself. His answer was another Montana surprise: "I don't hunt 'cause I've been in trouble with the law and I can't have a gun. But my mamma has a gun." Hmm. Parked at the side of the road between two desolate highways, chatting with a man in trouble with the law and no other people around for miles? Time to go.

The landscape dazzled us as we continued on to Bozeman. There were mountains in the distance, huge expanses of land, and trees in every color that trees can come in. Frolicking in the creek beside the highway was an absolute must. The water was freezing, but we sat on the river rocks as the water trickled toward us, and enjoyed a few minutes of complete serenity. It was another one of those moments when I realized just how much beauty exits in my home country. The feelings of peace ended abruptly when we were forced to use a highly questionable restroom facility next to the creek, a surprise I could have done without.

Lunch at the Kountry Korner Café was definitely a hometown affair. I ordered chili and cornbread from a lady in an apron that could have been Betty Crocker herself, she was so cute. When she returned with our food, she was sure to mention that the honey was all locally made, in fact it was made by the people sitting at that table over there. Well, it doesn't get more local than that! I guess this would be kind of like running into the girl that does your coffee in L.A., but somehow not really the same thing.

As we headed out of Bozeman, there was a sign for a town named Manhattan. I had to giggle at the stark contrast between the sparse farmland before me, and the busy, bustling Manhattan in my mind. Bringing New York Manhattanites to this namesake town so unlike their own would make for hilarious reality television.

The more I travel, the more I realize how different things are outside of my backyard. Travel is an endless testament that we can never underestimate what another place has to offer. The more we see, the more we learn, and the more we can understand. I am sure there are lots of people that have always known Montana was lovely, and although I may be late in the game, I am glad to know it now. And come to think of it...the sky might have looked just a bit bigger.
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