Travels

Must-See Macau

Macau is a 1.5 hour ferry ride from the terminal in Hong Kong, and it’s worth a day trip.  Everyone knows about the lavish casinos and the huge party town (it’s like the Vegas of Southeast Asia), but here are three must-sees – aside from the glitz and glamour – that will make your Macau visit even more fun.

Old Town Macau

Check out the fortresses from when Macau was a Portuguese colony.  See the architecture, take in the decidedly European influence (there’s even a Port wine museum!), try to figure out street signs in Portuguese…

One stop for spectacular views of the city is the old fort, Fortaleza du Monte.  It has panoramic views and really shows you the dichotomy between Old and New Macau.

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The cannon is pointed directly at the casinos….hm….

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The Ruins of St. Paul are right next to the fort, and are gorgeous.

You can also see the Chinese influence that still hasn’t will probably never go away, in the forms of older temples and shrines, and even more modern propaganda in the form of the 1950s Mao posters in every store.

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Pandas!!!!!!!!!!

Did you really think I’d skip the pandas?  Come on….

There are two pandas in Macau, and they are awesome.  The panda park itself is interesting – it has panda EVERYTHING (so it’s basically my version of heaven), and you can watch them till your heart’s content.

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These were absolutely huge awesome pandas made from carnations.

If you catch them on a good day, they’ll do flips and entertain you, but on a bad day, they’ll just stay in their little cave area and not come out.  Luckily for me, it was a good day, and I got to see it up close and personal.  Now if only I could figure out how to get one home…

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Grand Prix Museum

I realize this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a really short museum and if you like cars or appreciate it at all, it’s worth a trip.  Inside, you will see Aryton Senna’s car and race suit, an entire wall devoted to Michael Schumacher, and various other cars from other forms of racing (Porsche, BMW, even Toyota).  It’s a throwback homage to the days when racing was insanely dangerous, drivers were rugged men, and parties were wild and debauchery ran amok.

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And if the Museo du Gran Prix isn’t your thing, the Port wine museum is right next door. Cheers!

Close Encounters

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Oh, Wyoming.  Probably one of the most desolate states I’ve ever driven though.  There’s not much there, and despite some of the prettiest sunsets and mountains I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty barren.

That being said, I had the opportunity to visit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and when I told people that I was going to be passing through, they got all excited and said it was in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I still have not seen this movie, but I now understand why Steven Spielberg thought it would be a great addition to a freaky film:  This monument definitely looks like it could have been created by aliens.

41jNr2olTPLThe drive there was long, and my never-ending patience began to wonder if it would even be worth it. From South Dakota into Wyoming on a state route was pretty empty, and did I really need to see yet another underwhelming (sorry Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse) national monument?  I mean, I haven’t been to Yellowstone, but I’ve been to Jackson and the Grand Tetons twice, so how much can Wyoming really have to offer?

When I arrived there, it was a pretty awesome site.  Really awesome.  If you look closely in the photo, you can see the holes from where people have scaled the tower.

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IMG_20161109_110839389No one really knows how it formed, but there are theories (even though they left out the alien formation one).  It has mystical and spiritual significance to the Native American tribes in the area, and there are pretty walking paths and benches around the monument to sit and enjoy the majestic structure.

After walking the 1.5 mile path around the base of the site, and realizing my choice of footwear was less than appropriate (what do you mean, I can’t climb rocks in riding boots!?) I bade farewell to the monument and Wyoming.  Up close, it was one of the most interesting looking things I’ve seen in a long time, and it never would have been on my list, but I’m glad I saw it.

But I still haven’t seen Close Encounters.

The Top 5 Things I Learned at an Indian Wedding

Friendship blessed me with the opportunity to attend a Punjabi Sikh wedding last weekend.  Not only was it my first time in NorCal (San Jose!), but it was also the first Indian wedding I’ve ever attended – which meant days of parties.  I returned home Sunday night, exhausted, full of curry, and armed with new knowledge for next time.

In no particular order, here are the top five things I learned this past weekend:

1. Be prepared to eat.  No, not “eat a meal at the reception.”  We had dinner at the Mehndi ceremony on Thursday and the Sangeet on Friday.  And Saturday, we had breakfast and lunch at the hall (sandwiching the religious ceremony), and then dinner at the reception.  If you don’t like Indian food, this could be a bit challenging, but give it a chance if you’ve never had it.  You just might surprise yourself.

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Image courtesy of purvajcaterers.co.in

I’m fairly certain I ate about 12 pounds of paneer, chicken, lamb, samosas, rice, saag, kebob…I actually decided to change my outfit one night so I could eat more.  Side note – Indian desserts are a bit….different.  Spongy and very sweet.  My advice would be to fill up on the food.

2. Some of the parties may be dry.  In the U.S., “wedding” is usually synonymous with “booze,” but consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Sikhism.  This doesn’t mean that every event will be dry, but we were told, “You do you.”  Which, to many of us, said”be prepared with your own drinks.”
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Punjabi people are known for partying and having a good time, and the first two nights were not dry.  (My new drink invention is chai with spiced rum and a bit of sweetener.)  Out of respect, Saturday’s religious festivities and the reception were, however, so we made do with our own flasks.  Just don’t be too obvious, and take swigs privately.

3. It’s totally appropriate to wear a saree.  Bold and bright colors (no solid black or white), beading, embroidery, you name it.  My saree was an impulse buy between the Saturday morning ceremony and reception from a secondhand boutique that donates proceeds to help abused women.
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There are lots of videos on YouTube to teach you how to wear one, and they’re definitely not bad.  Invest in safety pins, and give it your best shot.  And if you’re still having trouble draping it, an Indian auntie will most certainly help you.

I was in the ladies’ room, trying to fix it, and she came up to me, asked if I needed help, and before I knew it, I was standing there with her hands tucking the fabric into my petticoat (aka skirt worn below your belly button).  It was a bit odd at first, but about 4 seconds in, I was immensely thankful for her help, and before I knew it, she had a line of people needing her expert advice.

4. Bring your dancing shoes.  Not dancing is not an option.  You’re at a wedding where the dance floor will basically turn into an Indian club, with pounding, energetic Indian music and flashing lights.  Plus, you’re there to celebrate.  Get off your butt and dance.
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At the Sangeet, there were choreographed traditional dances, a group dance, and then what seemed like every person trying to show off even more energetic moves.  It was bhangra style, it was American style, and it was totally fun.  It was even better with all the swirling colors.

5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Pace yourself.  Indian weddings last for days and have several events.  It’s worth it to take the time to appreciate all the work that went into the coordination, the gorgeous settings and colors, and to celebrate the happy couple.  There are traditions in which you can participate, such as the groom riding in on a white horse, with his friends and family dancing around it (which in our case was a fancy Mercedes), or hoisting the bride up and carrying her while the groom tries to get a garland of flowers around her neck.  Participate in the group dances, try all the food, and make new friends.  Indians are warm and welcoming, and they certainly know how to have a good time.

At heart, weddings all share one common thing:  They are a celebration of joining two families and many friends together, and this was no exception.   I can’t wait for the next one!

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IT’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE!

The last time I had any experience with wanting something so fluffy I was going to die, I got it.  I mean, not exactly, but sort of…Maybe it’s not a live panda, but it’s something!

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But Jenna, didn’t you take a trip and see a bunch of critters in 2015?  Why yes, yes I did, but believe you me, I did not want to go up and hug that moose.

As this wasn’t going to be a road trip where I was expecting to see any sort of wildlife, I had resigned myself to relaxing, and looking out for sunsets instead of appreciating the animals of an area I’d never seen before.  Luckily, I am fairly adept at camera phones, and was able to catch some of them in their natural habitat.

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First, the rams!  Go Rhody! Look at those horns!  Ahhh, the college memories.  All they need is a blue and white URI shirt.  These were spotted in Badlands National Park, and while I wanted to go pet one, I figured they’d head butt me, and therefore refrained.  Next time though.

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Ahhh, buffalo.  Or bison.  I’m not actually sure what the difference is, but either way, it’s delicious.  These are a pretty common sight while traveling across the country, but I’ve never seen one so close.  They’re BIG.  Like, really big.  I could eat for months.

img_3964IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’M GONNA DIEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay maybe not die, but this was the best thing ever!  It’s a mountain goat, and he was just hanging out on the path around Mt. Rushmore.  I approached cautiously, but it was just sort of staring at me with this bored look, and as I walked by, he didn’t even move.  He was this giant fuzzy animal and those horns looked pretty sharp, but I was about 6′ from this giant ball of fur.  I think I deserve an award for not cuddling it (though he was so calm, he might’ve let me).

Mr. Goat won’t ever replace Big Panda, but he’s a close second.  Very close.

Mount Rushmore

Because it was November 8, and this was by far the most absurd election year ever (listen to the deconstruction here), I spent the night after Badlands National Park glued to the TV in a crappy hotel in Rapid City, SD.  Around 10pm, when it was announced our new president was a billionaire businessman from New York, I shut off the TV and stared at a black screen.

Fitting, it was, that the next day brought my trip to see Mount Rushmore.  Four of the greatest presidents our nation has ever had.  Something that not many people from either coast ever get to see in person, and plus I was a 20 minute drive from it, and when would I ever be in South Dakota again?  Off I went.

Getting there at 8am is certainly the way to go.  No crowds, barely any people, and the light was pretty amazing.

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There might even be enough room for President Trump on the right…though maybe not enough to fit his hair.

There isn’t really too much to take a look at, but there is a short walk around the whole mountain.  It allows you to view the monument from several different angles, and also to take in the foliage.  I will say, East Coast, you win hands down in the Sunrise category.

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When South Dakota says “Big faces,” they really do mean big.  BIG faces.  Though I half expected Team America to come flying out of the rocks.  I might have been humming the song the entire walk.

There’s a lot to take in, but you don’t need more than an hour, even if you stop to think about all the work that went into the carving, and all the great things those presidents did during their time in office.  When you do contemplate, just be sure there isn’t some mischievous imp behind you taking pictures.15036162_10103703040798441_5531909470782049711_n

 

Badlands National Park

Ahhhh, South Dakota.  Great faces, great places.  There are four (and a half, but more on that later) BIG faces, but there is definitely at least one truly great place:  Badlands National Park.

On day 2 of driving, I made it to South Dakota and had two stops in mind:  Mount Rushmore, and Badlands National Park.  I’d not known about the latter until I did a bit of research, and it seemed like I’d be racing against the clock to get there, but I was determined to try.

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I rushed to get to the park before the sun set, and I made it at 5:05 pm…just barely enough light to drive through.  It was definitely a blessing in disguise because a) there was no one there to charge me the entry fee, and b) you seriously cannot beat the sunsets in the west.  Luckily, it’s more of a driving excursion than a hiking one, and with about an hour before it was totally dark, I put my Michael Schumacher skills to the test.

The rock formations are not as crazy as some of the other parks (I’m looking at you, Bryce Canyon), but they were just as majestic.  And with that pink/yellow/blue background slowly changing to vibrant oranges and red, you really couldn’t beat it.

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I’d been hoping to get out and walk around a bit, but unfortunately, my choices were “see the whole park” or “drive through a deserted area with no lights and who knows what kinds of critters.”  I chose to drive through, and am actually pretty damn pleased with it. Where else could I get the requisite shot of a road, heading off into the sunset?

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Eventually, I made it to the end of the Grand Tour, and was able to follow the magnificent sunset all the way out.  It’s not every day you see things like this – I was irritated I had to rush and to change my hiking plans, but this made it all worth it.

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The Route Less Taken

My move from TX to WA could have taken one of several routes.  After figuring that driving through Denver proper with nothing but booze, guns, and underwear might not be the best idea, the weather looked to be good enough to drive straight north from Dallas into South Dakota.  I promise there’s a method to the madness:  when would I ever be in a position to go to South Dakota, and able to see Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and then maybe hit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming on the way out?

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Intimidating, right?  I mean, 41 hours in a car on mostly state routes is pretty ambitious, if you ask me.  There was a lot of nothing for a while, though the sunsets got progressively prettier (and harder to drive in).

And yes, it does say 41 hours, which is a really long effing time, but I was able to be a little productive in the form of knitting a sweater for my cousin’s baby.

Otherwise, it was a big flock of nothing.  Except for major concentration, because of course, no adventure would be complete without some inclement weather.  It rained so hard on the first three hours of the drive that I thought I was going to be swept away in a flood.  The only bonus was the double rainbow when I finally got into Oklahoma.

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South Dakota was calling me, so I didn’t have much time to check out Kansas and Nebraska, but it’s ok.  It mainly looked like this in the morning, which wasn’t too shabby, but at the same time it was EARLY.  Like 5:30 am early.

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I know I complain about the drive, and the empty road, and the terrible hours in the car with fast food and nothing great. However, the open road is magical, and while my bitching about the lack of scenery was frequent, I did take a break once in a while to admire the future in front of me.

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