vacation

American AirBNB Horror Story

Because the Ginger and CDB were taking advantage of transportation, the Ginger decided to book us all an AirBNB in Sequim, so that we could have two days of exploring the park.  He found a place that was moderately priced, owned by “William,” and we all figured it would be fine.

It was a cute house from the 1930s, easily located, and in a quiet area of town.

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When we looked up the address, however, we found out that it was not a house, per se, but a business.  A hypnotherapy business, owned by “Brian.” It was called Life 391 (which now redirects to a company called The Memory Detectives).  There was a photo of Brian:

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We were spooked.  There was a bedroom with quite possibly the most uncomfortable bed on the planet, a waiting room with a futon, and an attic with a mattress.  There were several locked doors, the basement and attic had bars on the windows, and we were pretty sure we were going to be dissected in our sleep. We were on the lookout for weird hypnosis things – experiments, sleep talk, anything.  You never know.

You know what I do know?  They always kill the small one first.  AKA ME!

We spent fewer than 12 hours in the house – we would have spent more time, but a) we were scared and b) we did want to hike a good deal of the park.  When you have a face like that, and can scare four 30-somethings, perhaps you might want to rethink your rental.

Next time I’m booking the accommodations….

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What a Hoh

When I moved from Texas, everyone said they’d come visit.  However, the only one I believed was the Ginger; he said he would come visit to go hiking.  The Ginger is from the Dirty Jerz, and has lived all over the country, so it’s not surprising he is less inclined to enjoy the rolling flatness of Texas, and he’d take the opportunity to escape the oppressive southern summer.

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We planned to meet at Olympic National Park, which would be my first trip there.  After picking him up around the University of Washington campus, we had a three-hour drive to figure out where to start.  After some deliberation between the Ginger, Louboutini, and the Ginger’s travel friend, Cheap Douchebag (CDB), we decided on the Hoh Rainforest (insert “hoe” jokes here).

CDB is not athletic, he is cheap (thus the C), he’s a haughty elitist (“Iiiii went to Harvard Laaaaaaw”) and he does not appreciate nature.  Nor does he appreciate people going out of their way to make it easier for him.  Needless to say, he was a very large damper on the whole thing – complaining, whining, going slow on purpose, not chipping in for anything, and repeatedly mentioning how he liked being in Seattle proper a lot better, with the restaurants, girls, and booze.  Despite his best efforts, however, he still couldn’t ruin the incredible experience we were about to have.

We chose what amounted to a seven-mile hike, that started in the Hall of Mosses.  It wasn’t difficult, but damn, was it beautiful.  Not everything that is gorgeous needs to be hard.

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The main hike would be through the rainforest, and be an out and back.  The trees are so much taller and wider than I’ve ever seen – this is what ants must feel like when they come across a twig.

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Yes, I realize how phallic this all seems…

Summer 2017 had been awfully dry in the PacNW, so the “rain” part of the rainforest was lacking a bit.  Only about 100 inches of rain so far, in an area that usually gets 200 inches a year.  I’m glad we didn’t get rained on, but I cannot imagine the area being even MORE green.  I felt like I was stuck in Kermit the Frog – not that it was a bad thing.

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Vancouver – Stanley Park

When you’re so close to Canada, you can’t resist the temptation to go, just so you can put “I am out of the country, and therefore have no access to email or phone” on your out of office message. Or, fine, that’s just me.

My parents hadn’t been to Vancouver, and I had never been to Canada in general, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to hang out, get some real Korean food in the Asian district, and visit a thriving city.

Once we got through the border crossing, the traffic, and managed to find a parking space, we walked around the northwest part, settling on a Korean restaurant with a prix fixe menu.  It was fantastic. I haven’t had Korean food that good since I went to Hong Kong.

We also went to Stanley Park, which has totem poles, a lovely sea walk, and a lighthouse at the end.  We caught a gorgeous day (albeit at low tide), and we took full advantage of the sunshine.

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A Cape of Coral

I know in my last entry, I said that I was beginning to appreciate my new home, but as someone who chooses sunshine as a drug, it took a lot of patience to get used to the dreary weather, and by April, my patience had worn out.

My parents had recently relocated to Florida (they affectionately call it “God’s Waiting Room,”), and I hadn’t seen them since Christmas. They moved to a neighborhood where a good chunk of my extended family (two sets of aunts and uncles, four cousins, my grandmother, and the friends they’ve made down there) also live, so it was going to be a mini family reunion.

A very good friend of mine was also experiencing a D-deficiency, and a stress overload, and we both needed to escape real life for a bit. A little coordination and we were set, so off we went to Cape Coral for a long weekend.

I was going to head out a bit early, because I work from home, and when I got there, I did have to do a few days’ work.  But with an office like this, can you blame me?

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One of my favorite things about this Gem of a friend is that she’s adventurous and active, but also very much into relaxing on the beach with a cocktail, so we had paddle board reservations, a 90-minute massage, and trips to the beach planned. The other favorite thing about Gem is that she is an eater, much like yours truly. With few exceptions, she’ll eat anything, and isn’t shy about eating till she’s full. I knew we’d be in for a fun-and-food-filled weekend.

The long weekend with my parents, seeing their new home, and hanging out by the salt-water pool with my extended family, spending a girls’ weekend with Gem, and relaxation was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Heading for a Wedding

Back in September, friends in Jackson, WY decided to throw wedding reception for their one year anniversary.  You may remember that I’d been here once before, on last year’s epic road trip, so I was pretty excited to head back there.

The weekend promised some pre-wedding shenanigans, a wedding, camping, and then hiking.   Unfortunately, I ended up missing all the fun before the wedding because American Airlines messed up majorly.  The flight was delayed 18 times, the planes were switched and then had mechanical difficulties…you know when the flight attendants roll out free First Class food, we’re in for a looooong wait.

I didn’t get to Jackson until six hours after my estimated arrival time.  Needless to say, I was not too pleased, and I was exhausted.  But the next day brought some really gorgeous weather, and a super cute chapel in the mountains.

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Despite it being freezing (for me) I put on a pretty party dress and a brave face, and was thankful for my pashmina.  It was quite warm in the sun, but pretty windy, and I kept accidentally pulling a Marilyn Monroe.  Note to self, don’t wear a short dress up in the mountains.

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The outdoor reception at 6pm meant we got some time to nap (yes, nap – I’m old!) and get ready for the party.  It was a Santa Maria style barbecue with endless food and booze, and a roaring campfire.  And they could not have planned the sky to be more perfect.  I’m always in awe of the stuff out West.  The colors are so vibrant and the skies are so clear at night.img_3764

Overnight, we camped out, and were pelted with insane wind.  We did not get tons of sleep, but we still wanted to go crazy and hike a long trail the next day.  Five of the BEST bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel sammiches later, we set off, and saw some crazy things along the way:

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Apparently this guy had been there for a few years, since my friend told me he’d seen the skeleton in the same place last year, when he was out hiking this trail.

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I love tree roots like this – I blame my Grandma.  But, unlike her, I did not try to take it with me.

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These shells are technically fossils, and are tens of thousands of years old, from when the Tetons used to be a glacier.  They’re all over the place, if you look closely.

Unfortunately, it was my fault the hike was cut short.  In trying to cross a stream, my muddy boots slipped on the log, and I fell in.  I was soaked from head to toe on my right side, and felt like Harvey Two-Face.  As if I wasn’t cold enough before!  Additionally, this was a mile or so into our 10 mile round trip hike, which wasn’t ideal.  I was informed there was a cabin around mile 3 or 4  where we could rest, which was good because I was freezing.  And then, it started to rain.

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Photographic evidence I’m a gigantic klutz.

We found the cabin, which is community-run, and the guys built a fire in the wood stove so I could dry off and warm up.  When I stripped my jeans off, I realized I had a huge eggplant on my shin, mud in my shoes, and a hole in my shirt, but my trusty cell phone was unscathed.  It’s the little things in life, I tell you.

We hung out at the cabin for a few hours playing Bullshit, eating Cupboard Surprise,  and drinking a leftover bottle of Bulleit.  I pretty much ruined the hike (and hunting) for everyone, but they were very accommodating and kind enough to stay with me instead of hiking without me.  I have very good friends.

Eventually, we had to start heading back, so we did, and I was very, very careful to not fall into any more streams.  I made it with some help, and while the eggplant on my leg was swelling even more (it would eventually develop into a huge hematoma that would take six weeks to go away), we all managed to make it back dry and unscathed.

The overcast skies had cleared up, and as we drove down the mountain, we saw a rainbow.  It was a pretty great end to a wonderful wedding weekend.  So much happened in so little time.  There was anger, exhaustion, love, happiness, adventure, and accidents, but it ended with a smile.

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Falling For You

Ahhh, fall.  The colorful leaves, football season, the brisk air, the pumpkin spice everything

It’s my favorite season, even though I don’t have school planners to decorate anymore (go ahead, laugh it up). There’s something special about the cooler weather, when my allergies change, and when I have to sleep snuggled deep in several blankets.  Also, it’s when people don’t look at me like I’m insane when I drink hot tea all the time…

The only thing better than October in southern New England is October in northern New England. It’s cooler, so things usually happen a bit earlier, and fall really feels like it’s in full swing.  This past weekend, I trudged up to Vermont in my rental Jeep (don’t ask) and spent two glorious days in a 1700’s farmhouse, surrounded by all that is fall, all that is New England, and all that is family.

My whole family was there to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday.  We were at Reading Farms Estate in Reading, VT, on the way to Killington and right near Woodstock (no, not that Woodstock).  It’s a spectacular old farmhouse that sleeps what feels like 50, has ponds, a barn, hiking trails over hundreds of acres, and amazing views. 
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There were giant trout in this pond, but there was a “NO FISHING” sign…They wouldn’t have noticed if we took one, maybe…though we had plenty of food anyway.  There were pellets you could throw in the water, and it was a veritable feeding frenzy.  My aunt and cousin did this all weekend.  Any time we couldn’t find them in the house, they were outside feeding fish, and giggling. It really is the simple things in life. IMG_20151003_104522619 IMG_20151003_112548107 IMG_20151003_112726806_HDR

The best thing about the leaves being late to change this year are the half-and-half trees.  Splashes of color in what would otherwise be a monochromatic view.  It’s a good reminder that life goes on – no matter how hard the green tries to stay, it will eventually become bright orange and red, and change will happen. The only thing we can do is look forward to next spring, and starting over.

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My Top Three Reasons to Go to Hong Kong

I really wanted to go visit Anna.  The Russian government, however, had other ideas for US citizens trying to visit Moscow, and the trip was put on the back burner due to the fact that getting a visa was really, really frustrating and expensive.  While this was a huge and disappointing setback, I still wanted to travel internationally this year, and a lucky glance at a discount airfare site and a leftover gift card meant I was going to Hong Kong – for 8 days, for less than a pair of Louboutins – USED Louboutins.

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Yeah…airfare was less than that. I shit you not. Image from ebay.com. These also have the potential to live in my closet.

I never had a burning desire to go to to Hong Kong; lots of friends have been/have family there, but I don’t know that I’d have ever said, “YES, THIS IS MY #1 DESTINATION OF CHOICE!”  But it was uncharted international territory, two of my “adventure” criteria, and I was all for it.

After the eight days there (which is just about the right amount of time for a first foray), I now have my top three reasons to visit – for which I’d gladly go back.

  1. The Mix 
    It’s a vibrant, bustling city that has Louis Vuitton, Dior, and YSL on one corner, and cheap eats and chintzy fun stores across the street.  There are hundreds of expats (waaaaaaay more white faces than I’d expected), so it’s not like you’d stand out like the Great White Hope as a visitor from the United States.  According to today’s Google search, it ranks #3 for “Top Financial Centers in the World.”  There’s a rapidly growing, ever-modernizing city, there are quiet mountain tops with panoramic views for hiking (and believe me, it’s a steep elevation change, and not the easiest hike), there’s varied cuisine, there are beaches…

    Those sweeping panoramic views I was talking about.

    Those sweeping panoramic views I was talking about.

    There is literally something to do for every type of traveler.  If you want to be active and explore, there are twisting streets and steep hills.  If you want to relax on the beach, there’s that, too.  There are plenty of bars with actually useful happy hour hours (more on that later), if you want to get your drink on.  Most of the younger generation understands at least a little English, so you aren’t totally lost.  And as a major metropolis, you aren’t cut off from technology, civilization, or (most importantly) indoor plumbing – unless you want to be.
    IMG_20150912_094633908Hong Kong, like the other cities I’ve visited in Asia, is the perfect blend of first and third world, and it’s a great destination for anyone that wants to experience something new, while not being too far away from the west – at least in spirit.

  2. The Shopping
    Ok, ok.  I’m not a shopaholic.  Definitely not.  Aside from the appreciation of the beautiful fashion, I could not relate to this movie at all.  Cher and Dionne would be so disappointed in me – I suffer from buyer’s remorse more often than I actually buy things.

    Image from movieposters.com

    Image from movieposters.com

    That being said, there’s a shopping culture in Hong Kong that will excite even the most reluctant of marketgoers.  Everything you see on Ebay, the super cheap electronics, phone cases, flash drives – it’s all there.  Clothes, trinkets, combs, souvenirs.  Jewelry, scarves, tea sets, journals.  You name it, it’s there.  In some districts, it’s like Madison Avenue on steroids.

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    Hong Kong had more designers in a concentrated space than this – it honestly blew my mind.  Image from lightuptheholidays.org

    When you’ve got every major designer in the world, along with four and five carat diamond rings and incredibly opulent jewelry, staring you in the face, it’s hard to not get swept into the shopping culture. I’m telling, you – even Fred Leighton and Harry Winston would have had runs for their money.  And it was everywhere.  The jewels, pearls, jade, gold – it was magnificent. 
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    A small vignette: I was waiting outside a jewelry store, looking through the windows, and a few minutes later, I somehow found myself seated at a counter, trying on diamond rings.  When lovely 1.5ct brilliant cut solitaire with a pavé band was placed on my finger, I told the sales person it was beautiful.  “You like?” he asked, probably hoping to make a sale.  “Yes, it’s gorgeous,” I told him.  “$60,000,” he said.  “Sixty.  Thousand.  Dollars,” I repeated slowly.  “Hong Kong dollars?”  “No,” he said, quickly.  “US.”  I could not take that ring off fast enough. 

    The first time you step foot in the shopping districts on the Kowloon side, it’s overwhelming, but after walking past a few stands, you get the hang of bargaining, arguing with the shopkeepers and walking away when you don’t get a good price. It’s like a game, a battle of wits (which you should never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line).  And when you walk away, and they chase you shouting “Okay, okay, your price, okay!” the feeling can only be described as triumph.

  3. The Food
    Hong Kong food isn’t “Chinese” in the sense that there’s a chicken dish named after the mysterious General Tso, and you’d be hard pressed to find an egg roll in the sense that we’re used to.  Instead, there’s amazing claypot rice, dim sum, and congee.
    IMG_20150909_214454320For those of you who are gastronomically adventurous, and for those of you that would prefer the comforts of home (in the form of burgers, pasta, pizza, and the like), Hong Kong has just about everything.  And if you are just a tiny bit adventurous, and you want multicultural meals every night of the week, Hong Kong has that, too.  Korean, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Nepalese, American, Thai, Italian…you name it, Hong Kong has it.  It’s not as diverse as New York City, in the sense that you have ubiquitous options on EVERY corner – in Hong Kong, it’s only on MOST corners.
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    I’m not ashamed to say I needed a burger fix –  fried onion straws, bacon, pulled pork, and cheese. And a side of thrice-fried duck fat fries.

    There are cured meat stands, fresh fruit stands, food carts, teeny shop fronts with Peking duck and steamed crabs hanging out front.  There are live fish markets, restaurants where you can pick your protein and they will cook it for you, and if you’re looking for something fast, there’s portable dim sum and meat on a stick.
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    IMG_20150912_142726927_HDRWhile I did get my fill of Chinese food (please, God, no more grease), the variety made eating more than bearable.  I actually did eat Indian, Korean, and Italian/Asian fusion dinners, and it was all delicious, and a welcome change.  By day 3, bananas, tangerines, and giant peaches were in my hotel fridge, along with oatmeal, dried berries, and walnuts for breakfast.  Yeah.  Just in case you need a bit of digestive help, there’s Quaker Oats there, too.

What began as a “last resort” vacation turned out to be one of the most interesting, most culture-surprising, and rewarding trips I’ve taken in a long time.  Yes, my epic road trip was, in a word, epic, but this is in a league all its own, and it has convinced me that Hong Kong is truly a place to find an adventure around every turn.